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Review: Losing Venice at The Orange Tree Theatre

Florence Roberts in LOSING VENICE - Orange Tree Theatre - photo by Helen Maybanks
Florence Roberts in LOSING VENICE – Orange Tree Theatre – photo by Helen Maybanks

The revival of Losing Venice, a 1985 surprise smash hit in Edinburgh which has since sunk beneath the theatrical waves, is a typically bold choice for the Orange Tree. Today, playwright Jo Clifford is better known for her work “Jesus, Queen of Heaven” which has been inspiring protests across the globe; it is, therefore, reasonable to expect something equally dramatic and controversial from her earlier work.

Losing Venice both fulfils and dashes these hopes. It is certainly chock-full of ideas – some of them brilliantly disturbing, some of them merely odd – but its political and social themes barely cause a ripple in the water of the modern-day canals.

Based, for the most part, in bellicose 17th century Spain, the play explores the subject of war and masculine dominance (cleverly interwoven) through the eyes of a disparate group of people. The Duke, sexually spurned by his new Duchess, decides to relieve his frustration by waging war on Venice. Reluctantly along for the ride are the cerebral but hapless poet Quevedo and resigned servant Pablo. Their voyage of mishap and self-discovery is mirrored by that of the abandoned, idealistic Duchess and her practical yet hopeful servant, Maria back in Spain.

The set is simple, consisting merely of a few stripy columns, moveable blocks, ingenious lanterns and a handy trapdoor. The costumes, however, are ornate, combining the vintage and the contemporary in alarming yet entertaining fashion.

The direction is smart and snappy, and the cast equally so. Tim Delap is a comically earnest Duke, and Remus Brooks gets a lot of laughs as the rapscallion Pablo. Florence Roberts and Christopher Logan shine as the eccentric Duchess and the despairing poet respectively, and David Verrey is a wonderfully repulsive Rabelaisian King. Eleanor Fanyinka steals the show as Maria, giving a thoroughly three-dimensional heart-warming performance. She also manages a very creditable Mrs Doge and, on the night I saw it, did a courageous turn as Sister, standing in for an ailing cast member. Most of the members of the cast play more than one role, swapping costumes and accents with professional aplomb and superb comic timing.

Looking for a tangible moral lesson in Losing Venice is like trying to catch smoke. Just when you think you’ve caught the tail of one it dissolves, leaving you empty-handed, with mocking laughter ringing in your ears. Much better to sit back, relax and enjoy the myriad of riddles, the flights of lexical and philosophical fancy and the grotesquely beautiful absurdities for the treat that they are.

4 stars

Review by Genni Trickett

Losing Venice sees a nation constantly on the edge of war, with delusional ideas of its place in the world, making poor choices powered by the absurdities of masculinity. Not seen since it was the surprise smash hit of the 1985 Edinburgh Festival. Transgender performer and playwright Jo Clifford has recently performed her one-person play Jesus, Queen of Heaven around the world to great acclaim and she also told her very personal journey of becoming a trans woman in Eve, which was at the Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Festival in 2017.

Our duty is plain. To bring an end to peace.
An empire gone wrong; an empire completely gone, in fact. A nation with delusional ideas of its place in the world, making poor choices, involved in clumsy foreign adventures, constantly on the edge of war.

At home, class divides are stark yet all attention is on a Duke’s ceremonial marriage.

And surging through the chaos, the absurdities of masculinity threaten to destroy everything.
An epic fable set in the faraway Spanish Golden Age.

Tia Bannon – Sister
Remus Brooks – Pablo
Tim Delap – Duke
Eleanor Fanyinka – Maria/Mrs Doge
Christopher Logan – Quevedo
Florence Roberts – Duchess/Priest
David Verrey – King/Mr Doge
Dan Wheeler – Secretary/Musician

Paul Miller – Director
Jess Curtis – Designer
Jai Morjaria – Lighting Designer
Terry Davies – Composer
Lizzie Douglas – Costume Supervisor
Isabella Van Braeckel – Costume Supervisor
Annie Rowe CDG – Casting Director

Listings Information
7 September – 20 October 2018


  • Genni Trickett

    Genni is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows. Genni has been passionate about theatre from an early age, performing in various productions throughout school and university. She is currently an enthusiastic member of an amateur dramatic society in South West London. Her favourite thing about living in London is the breath-taking variety of shows and theatrical talent. https://www.facebook.com/genevieve.trickett

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