Venus & Adonis
Malthouse Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare
20 April 2008
CUB Malthouse, Beckett Theatre
“She’s love, she loves, and yet she is not loved.” When Shakespeare wrote his poetic interpretation of the Venus & Adonis myth, he knew that thousands of years had not changed the dilemma of being a woman who loves. Malthouse Theatre and Bell Shakespeare continue to explore the nature of this myth in an original, complex and resonating production.
As humans, we are forever drawn to myth and tales that have existed since the first stories were told. How we tell them changes, but the eternal nature of human emotion and experience repeats though each generation of storytellers. Director Marion Potts and dramaturge Maryanne Lynch use the Bard’s interpretation to re-tell the Venus myth. What they have brought into our contemporary theatre is an intricate and powerful exploration of women and love. In a timeless hotel room, in the forest of a city, woman remains an untouchable goddess, a filthy whore and every powerful and powerless incarnation in between.
There is no Adonis on the stage. We, as audience, take on this role. We watch, are seduced by and reject the advances of Venus, played by, the perfectly cast, Susan Prior and Melissa Madden Grey. Our rejection is figurative as both are outstanding and it’s only theatrical convention that stops the audience from leaping up to join them. I’d watch Melissa Madden Grey cross the road. The amazing Meow Meow aside, Madden Grey’s range has taken her effortlessly from The Production Company to Pina Bausch Tanztheater. Can she do Shakespeare? Of course she can, and does it in a way that makes us want to keep watching and listening. Susan Prior contrasts and complements Madden Grey. Their performances seamlessly merge and separate as each new level of Venus is exposed.
In fear of repeating myself, the Malthouse design team keep getting everything right. Anna Tregloan’s set and costume encapsulate the complexity and timelessness of the myth, and the conflicting restriction and freedom of the women. Paul Jackson’s lighting continues to support and emphasise every emotion on the stage and David Franzke’s sound brings a remarkable element to the production, as the amplification almost turns us into voyeurs, rather than invited watchers. And he lets us hear Andrée Greenwell’s equally perfect composition.
Each element of this production is stunning, but as a whole there seems to be something missing. I found myself admiring the micro, because I wasn’t completely engaged by the macro. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I was trying too hard to interpret and understand, rather than just enjoy.
Venus & Adonis is original and captivating. Like all myth, we don’t really need to consciously understand it to get the full emotional benefit. Enjoy this work by letting the images seep into your unconscious and see what feelings and memories or your own appear.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.