Venice Preserv'd

Theatre, Drama
2 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(17user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Venice is sinking into the sea; and this revival of ‘Venice Preserv’d’ is sinking into a mire of wishy-washy conceptualisation.

I had no problem with the bare bones of Charlotte Westenra’s production: prune the extraneous nonsense and you’re basically left with a solid revival of Thomas Otway’s 1682 revenge tragedy. Unfortunately there was rather a lot of extraneous nonsense.

‘Venice Preserv’d’ the play is a sort of hokey descendant of ‘Hamlet’, wherein hero Jaffeir (Ashley Zhangazha) is torn between butchering the entire Venetian senate in order to please his BFF Pierre (Ferdinand Kingsley), or not butchering the entire Venetian senate in order to please his doting wife Belvidera (Jessie Buckley). Jaffeir vacillates so hysterically that even Shakespeare’s Dane would probably want to give him a slap, but rising star Zhangazha tackles the role with great conviction, crystal clear diction and a blazing passion that carries us with him. And he’s ably supported by a fine ensemble, most notably Buckley and Kingsley.

In an off-West End theatre at £15 a ticket, you’d be laughing (or weeping at the tragedy, whatever). But new company The Spectators’ Guild promises to present plays in ‘atmospheric and significant spaces offering each audience member the chance of adventure’. This essentially boils down to performing it in and around the not-very-atmospheric Paynes & Borthwick Wharf. A scene in which the wealth of the Venetian elite is decried with Canary Wharf as a backdrop is a nice touch; a faux-Venetian bridge made of ugly scaffolding is not; in general it looks a lot cheaper than it probably was, and momentum of the play is dulled by constantly having to constantly move between chilly rooms.

The most egregious offence, though, is a lengthy prologue section in which we trudge down from the Cutty Sark in an enforcedly jolly imitation of a Venetian carnival. Maybe I’m just a sourpuss, but an hour of Butlins-grade ‘fun’ (they make us do a dance) struck me as a singularly awful fit for a gory tragedy, plus it brings the running time up to nearly four hours.

New theatre companies should have the right to find their feet, and I hope the Spectators’ Guild do, because they are good with the basics. But at £35 a ticket, I’d advise you to preserve what’s inside your wallet.


Average User Rating

4.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:10
  • 4 star:5
  • 3 star:1
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
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I went straight to the venue and did not take part in the walk from The Cutty Sark. A striking production superbly directed with wonderful design & visceral passionate performances from all of the cast. This is a difficult play that has been re-imagined in a powerful & entertaining way. The final scenes are astounding & strangely beautiful. Listen carefully and there are many modern echoes to todays pollitics. Go as a crowd , dress uo -or dont if not your thing -either way catch this while you can. Look out for the comic bedroom scene for the contrasting comic moments. Great evening by th river.

Catherine McDonough

Spent a great evening on Saturday watching this show. Brilliant cast and this reviewer rightly lauds Ashley Zhangazha. Excellent in Fences, Henry V and monumental in this performance. Look forward to seeing what he does in years to come. A great talent. The promenade aspect does slightly halt the flow at times but the cast are always engaging and committed.Wrap up warm.

It is a cliche to write of a production that renews your faith in Theatre. Sue me. Venice Preserv'd by The Spectators Guild' recalled to me the sensations I felt when watching Shunt productions at (God help me) 'the turn of the century' - and I didn't expect that from the revival of play originally performed over 300 years ago.

Criticising a prologue for its impertinence is in itself a tragedy (Euripides - gedditt??!!) but if you are truly feeling worn down by the life of a Time Out critic or life in general, the 'imitation Venice Carnival' walk to the performance space is not essential. Like the prologue of a modern novel you can skip it if you must - but - if you decide 'skip it' instead of 'trudging' it you will find that it fulfills its intended purpose exceptionally well.

The cast are consistently strong and so entirely committed that it would be unfair of me to single out the fine comic interplay between Pip Donaghy and Ayesha Antoine and the luminous presence of Jessie Buckley in the role of Belvidira.

The staging of the production in the Paynes & Borthwick Wharf is inspired and the infrequent (and very short) moves between the various locations it offers serves to immerse the audience further into their own role - which is integral to the success of the production. 

The production finishes on June 8th. Worry about your wallet at the end of the month - see this.

This was the most beautiful, epic piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. The carnivalesque introduction though bizarre at times, was the perfect juxtaposition to the immensely powerful scenes later. Performances that will blow your mind (Jessie Buckley in particularly is exceptional) against a stained night sky and the sound of the water against the docks; what a refreshing experience! I would much rather take a punt on exciting, inventive theatre like this than on the majority of West end shows. Go, go, go, for a playful, theatrical wonderment!

It was very ambitious and creative...but for the amount of money spent on it I have to say I was disappointed.

The plot didn't make much sense, I was cold throughout the evening (my mistake- bring lots of layers!) and the shuffling from space to space did seem to break the spell. At one point we were given cloaks to wear, only to just sit in them and return them at the end of the scene. Another unnecessary expense!

We all (two adults, two teenagers) found this one of the most exciting and enjoyable theatrical experiences we have been to for a very long time. The attention to detail for the audience is amazing and the difference between this and going to a west end theatre is so refreshing. It feels like theatre in a way that some others which have better reviews here ("let the right one in" or "the pyjama party") do not.

The cast are charming, the play is exciting, and the setting is excellent.

I don't understand this TimeOut review and the best thing is to go and see it and judge for yourselves.

I loved the extraneous nonsense! Much more fun to move around a theatrical space, interacting with the cast than sitting staring at a wooden stage for two hours. And I got to wear a red cape!! The acting is superb, Jessie Buckley especially. I recently saw her as Miranda at the Globe, but this role was even meatier & her anger is electrifying.

It's a magical experience, I would recommend anyone to go. Take a woolly!

Ignore the review and see it for yourselves.  Do the parade if you can as it is part of the evening - lots of people had made a real effort to dress up - which added to the atmosphere- just let yourself go with it.  The sets are great and moving from room to room certainly adds to the play. Most importantly the actors are fantastic and have so much energy and presence throughout the evening, I have been to a lot of immersive and site-specific theatre in the past 10 years and this is one of the best.  

The 'carnival' is optional. Personally, I felt it added something to the play [apart from an hour] by helping establish a mood.

The play itself was quite heavy going, thanks to the language. But fascinating and the moving from one area to another made it more of an experience than just going to a theatre and sitting on one seat. I enjoyed the rare touches of humour where this century was slotted in.

Overall, I'd say go; enjoy; but don't expect anything usual!

I was very surprised to see only a 2* rating from the Time Out review and feel this is a slight injustice to the production and it's company. 

The production encompasses strong, enchanting and gripping staging and acting alike.  This is a refreshing experiential and immersive Theatre production, which I don't think leaves anyone in the audience feeling awkward from it's devices, but does allow a Restoration play to fully come to life. 

Time Out reviewer Andrzej Lukowski questions whether he was a 'sour puss' and after attending last night's performance, I conclude that yes, Andrzej you were and have perhaps missed a few points along the way.  

The Carnival Parade certainly isn't an essential part of the evening or the play, so you won't miss anything crucial  if you head straight to the venue, and yes if you are of a reserved disposition or unable to allow yourself to just 'go with it' (London Crowds are notoriously stiff) you may conclude that it's all a bit silly; You do get out of this part of the evening, what you put into it and we enjoyed ourselves immensely.  If it is a nice summer evening, then meandering along the Thames from picturesque Greenwich, as you take in the sights and sounds and wind down from your day, will be a great way of readjusting from everyday London life into your imagination, primed for the evening's play.  

Whether you have been part of the carnival parade or have arrived later at the venue for pre-performance snacks and drinks, you will be lulled back in time and refocussed into the essence of the play by a clever, hypnotic introduction of drums and dance by your male performers.

The performances are strong with some brilliant acting that would be applauded on any West End or SouthBank stage and the setting is poignant. As we learn about grievances of our fellow Venetians with the Senate,  a towering Canary wharf lights the backdrop to draw elegant parallels between past and present.

The audience is taken from one physical space to the next, per scene and this does indeed add another level of enchantment and as mentioned earlier does help to bring this play to life.   

I have to say I think the Artistic Direction and staging of this play is utterly brilliant and I recommend that this is definitely something Londoners should take time out to go and see. I'd also suggest that the more people in an audience the better, as this will only add to the whole atmosphere.  This is generally true of all live performance, but especially true of this production. So if you're thinking of a group excursion, definitely consider this.  100% recommended.    

The 'carnival' and pre-play entertainment was really just amiable froth. However the good-naturedness, enthusiasm and willingness to engage with the public made it gentle fun rather than the cringe-worthy experience that I can find such things to be. I was particularly pleased to see the engagement with the local children; anything that promotes the fact that theatre is (or should be) fun and not stuffy has to be welcomed.

However there was nothing at all frothy about the play itself. There was some seriously good acting on display here from too many of the cast to mention individually and the play itself while clearly dated in some respects built to a dramatic crescendo. The staging was superb with far more locations than expected and the direction innovative and thoughtful. There was also a willingness to engage with and include the audience to a level very rarely seen. The audience regularly being brought into proceedings and little touches like dressing us as senators along with the excellent acting, the superb staging and the unusual location made this overall a 5* experience. Highly recommended.  

This was a magical and gripping production with a strong, well spoken and handsome cast. 

I really enjoyed the procession from Greenwich (not compulsory), and moving from scene to scene at the venue. The final scenes, overlooking the Thames, with the lights of Canary Wharf behind it, were especially striking.

An interesting promenade production which makes great use of the venue, with terrific acting. It really brought a, slightly forgotten, play to life. A great evening out ... Just pick a dry night.

Definitely one to remember - for all the best reasons.  Great acting, well thought out scenes, an amazing backdrop of the river.  We were gripped for the whole performance. One very much appreciated plus is that the cast and crew (including the actor in this photo) looked after this senior couple for the whole production, ensuring that we had seats during the promenade pieces.  All done with diplomacy and sensitivity.

Tremendous acting and an amazing setting with good use made of the unusual venue. An extremely well thought out and an absorbing evening of dynamic involving theatre

this sounded like a very promising night out but somehow it just doesnt work. the acting is in parts great but a bit overwrought for my taste,and this forgotten play is probably not revived too often with good reason. Its just not a great play and it didnt grab my attention. The constant shuffling from one scaffolded stage to another breaks any dramatic intention. its hard to believe theyve spent over 100k on this and it will probably prevent other arts organisations benefitting from large sums for site specific endeavours, due to the poor reviews of this play. A 'carnival' from Greenwich to Deptford was toe curlingly embarrassing, forcing silly dances upon us. Having to change money to buy a drink was exasperating. I wanted so much to like this and for it to be a success and am sorry to have to report this poor experience.

AMAZING PLAY! Slightly chilly when outdoors, easier than I thought to get to. Masks, wonderful performance, GORGEOUS location, and Prosecco what more do you need?!