Venus & Adonis

Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland

18/03/2009 - 22/03/2009

Auckland Festival 2009

Production Details

Australian company, Bell Shakespeare, blends drama and cabaret in an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis, which is by turns sexy, vulgar, humorous and heartbreaking.

Accompanied by a live band, Melissa Madden Gray and Susan Prior portray the multifaceted goddess of love through verse, conversation and song. In their hands the famous poem, Shakespeare’s subversive re-working of Ovid’s original love story, is a performance piece that veers from drama to cabaret, farce to burlesque, as Venus uses every feminine wile at her disposal to try and win over an indifferent Adonis.

A hugely entertaining look at lust and love, sexual stereotypes and mythical goddesses from Australia’s innovative touring Shakespeare company.

Bruce Mason Centre, Wed 18 – Sun 22 March, Tickets: $35 – $65
Bookings: Ticketmaster 09 970 9700 

Staring: Melissa Madden Gray and Susan Prior
Music performed live by Felicity Clark, Michael Sheridan, Bree Van Reyk.
Developed through Bell Shakespeare's Mind's Eye

Goddess transformed by melancholy of unrequited love

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 20th Mar 2009

If you have ever wondered why love and pain are so closely intertwined, Shakespeare offers an explanation with his radical re-working of the myth of Venus and Adonis

In the classical version the goddess of love seduces the mortal Adonis and tastes the bitterness that comes with the death of a beloved. But in Shakespeare’s poem the stakes are dramatically raised when Adonis rejects Venus and remains unmoved by all the seductions and arguments that the goddess can offer. [More


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Sumptuous avant-garde adaptation

Review by Nik Smythe 19th Mar 2009

At first we’re watching two women, each with hair down to their feet, amble and stride about the classic Deco style set designed by Anna Tregloan’, who also dressed them in their respective saucy and dignified attires.  With Olivia Newton John and Whitney Houston permeating the house music mix as Melissa Madden Gray and Susan Prior warm up, stretching, contorting and muttering to themselves, there is a decidedly David Lynch feel to it all. 

The actual play kicks off with Brechtian self-awareness, the cast addressing (flirting!) with the audience before doing their voice exercises, drawing the curtain and beginning the lengthy early poem of William Shakespeare.  Gray and Prior share the lead role of the wanton Roman goddess whose well-known superpower is bringing mortal people to know the joys and torments of love.  

Between them they present a range of faces – wanton and demure, vicious and nurturing, conniving and frank.  No actor plays her human heartthrob Adonis, though he’s continually alluded to and addressed directly by Venus, suggesting that this Goddess’s world is reality and our mortal realm is an ethereal construct.

The original famous legend, admittedly new to me, goes that Venus and Adonis were long-time lovers who hunted together until, ignoring her warnings about which animals were safe to hunt, he was fatally wounded by a wild boar.  Shakespeare’s adaptation turns this somewhat pagan parable on its head, having Adonis reject the advances of the amorous deity. 

Much humour and recognition is contained in Venus’ numerous and eclectic means of attempting to inspire, persuade or cajole the mortal object of her immortal desire.  The tragic conclusion contains a germ of hope for the future of beauty, but what is to become of love when its goddess herself has a broken heart?

With her strongly talented cast, director Marion Potts takes a decidedly avant-garde approach to the staging.  The classic Deco style décor of Anna Tregloan’s set and costume design, with embossed wallpaper and wall vents and black curtains which pull back to reveal a caged forest that seems to represent the earthly plain, makes for a macabre setting. 

Paul Jackson’s excellent lighting design, along with the perverse characterisations and poetic tensions explored throughout the performance, contribute to the Lynchesque style.  As does the music, composed by Andree Greenwell and performed live by Felicity Clark, Michael Sheridan and Bree van Reyk. 

Developed through Bell Shakespeare’s Mind’s Eye, the production quality is unfaultable; dynamic experimental direction, engaging performance, outstanding music, beautiful singing, conceptual significance and poetic justice. 

…It’s just a pity I often struggled to follow what they were saying.  I think a greater familiarity with the text would definitely help the work be more fully imbibed. 

So does Bell Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis actually shed any new light on the eternal questions of love and purpose?  In the words of the immortal bard*:  "I leave it to your honourable survey, and your honour to your heart’s content; which I wish may always answer your own wish and the world’s hopeful expectation."

*(To the Rt. Hon. Baron Henry Wriothesly, 3rd Earl of Southampton, to whom the poem was dedicated in 1593.)


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