BWW Review: LOSING VENICE, Orange Tree Theatre
In choosing Jo Clifford's comic satire Losing Venice, Artistic Director Paul Miller has served up another unique offering at Richmond's Orange Tree Theatre. Delightfully bonkers, idiosyncratic and totally eccentric; it is an entertaining, if not slightly confusing evening.
Set in the Spanish Golden Age, Clifford's play explores the masculine urge for war and conflict and the devastating consequences of this on countries and their citizens. The Duke has married in order to produce an heir, but does not actually want to consummate the marriage, questioning the purpose of women. His desires focus solely on war and requests to be sent away with his poet Quevedo and his assistant Pablo.
The first act focuses on the marriage of the Duke, Quevedo's frustration at having to compose poetry about love and the Duke's desire for war. The second act has some more disjointed scenes as the characters arrive in Venice and hear the consequences of war. The action often touches on the bizarre, such as when Pablo is delivered his new daughter in a couriered package.
Director Paul Millar focuses on the comedy of the script, with excellent timing of jokes and delivery. In a universally talented cast, there are some standout performances. Christopher Logan's foppish Quevedo is a delight. Constantly hounded by the Duke for suitable poems, he launches himself around the stage, appealing to the audience against the frustrations of his position.
Tim Delap is great as the Duke, a man who combines being unknowingly amusing with his overly earnest musings on life, love and war. There were more than a few flashes of Rik Mayall's Lord Flashheart in his blustering intonation, which all add to the fun.
Florence Roberts makes a wonderfully detached Duchess; her feelings of dread and dislike of her new husband are etched on her face in a brilliant serious of horrified expressions. It would have been welcome to develop their relationship a little more in the story, as the comic potential of their union seems cut short after the Duke leaves for Venice at the end of Act 1.
Eleanor Fanyinka and Remus Brooks are both warm and engaging as they take on the roles of lowly servants as Maria and Pablo. As representatives of ordinary people, they are down to earth and the most believable characters, with Fanyinka in particular showing a very natural comfort on stage. At one point, Maria states that she is unaware of a particular ritual because she is from the north; she does this in a broad northern accent, but this peters out, unlike Pablo's accent, which remains consistent.
Jess Curtis' inventive costumes lend a fantastical air with a fusion of classical 17thcentury Spain with 80s punk and the glitter of glam rock thrown in. The multi-colour, asymmetric hair of the Duchess is a particular highlight.
Despite being written in 1985, many aspects of the play seem prescient; leaders of a nation pushing for decisions that have serious repercussions for so many people beneath them. The programme notes refer to the delusions of empires that do not know their place in the world. However, this, or any other, message is not always obvious and the focus of the audience will be more on the absurdist comedy and excellent performances.
Photo Credit: Helen Maybanks