Losing Venice (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

Posted: September 12, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Jo Clifford      Director: Paul Miller


Marrying the styles of restoration comedy and 1950s absurdism, Paul Miller’s revival of Jo Clifford’s Losing Venice is a curious venture that feels out of place and out of time. The play premiered at the 1985 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where, perhaps, it passed as frivolous fun, but, put under harsher scrutiny here, it comes up as fatally overblown.

Clifford picks the timeless targets of macho posturing and futile imperialism for her satire and sets the first part of the play in a shambolic dukedom during Spain’s Golden Age. The Duke’s resident poet, Quevedo (Christopher Logan) pens verse that no one ever reads or hears, while his lusty servants Pablo (Remus Brooks) and Maria (Eleanor Fanyinka) make love in the open air for lack of any inhabitable private rooms on the estate. In contrast, the Duke himself (Tim Delap) is unable to consummate his marriage to the Duchess (Florence Roberts), but then her pink wig, shaped like a chimney brush, could crush any healthy man’s libido.

Not to worry, there are other ways in which the Duke can prove his manhood. “It is peace…that underlies our ills…a woman’s invention. Peace rots the soul…” he proclaims before seeking out the King to solicit a mission of overseas conquest. Clifford’s humorous writing combines original wit with tired innuendo and flashes of lyricism. The first act may be flimsy, but it is kept afloat by some adept comedy and a vague sense of purpose.

When the Duke, Quevedo and Pablo arrive in Venice, via an encounter with pirates, at the beginning of Act II, a sinking feeling sets in and what follows becomes entirely shapeless. Clifford muddies the waters further by throwing in mystical elements, almost as if she has run out of ideas for where to take the action. Eventually, the Duke declares to an empty stage: “I have saved Venice. Doesn’t that mean something?”, thereby highlighting the irony in the title. At 90 minutes plus interval, at least the production is mercifully short.

Miller is a director who can usually be relied upon to extract strong ensemble performances and this gift provides the production with its biggest consolations. Delap’s boisterous nobleman, Logan’s prissy poet and Brooks’ put-upon manservant are all highly entertaining and David Verrey, first as the reeking Spanish King and then as the exhausted Venetian Doge, steals scenes in both acts. They are all worth better than this

Performance date: 11 September 2015

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

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