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Puppets bring classic to life in masterful show

Venus and Adonis, The Swan Theatre, Stratford, until August 4

Some may be surprised that Shakespeare's poem Venus and Adonis could make any kind of theatrical spectacle - doubly so, when the "actors" are puppets. But this collaboration between the RSC and renowned centre of puppetry excellence, Little Angel Theatre, succeeds on every level. Based on the classical tale from Ovid, the story concerns the love of Venus for the beautiful youth Adonis, who spurns her advances. He'd rather hunt. The drama, directed by Greg Doran, is ultimately tragic, but no opportunity for humour is wasted. The character of Adonis is rather wooden - not just because he's played by a puppet - and it’s left to the goddess of love to entertain the audience with inventive ways of invading his personal space. Sadly for her, she fails to provoke the merest hint of arousal, or even interest. She wraps herself around him; presents herself seductively on banks of imagined flowers; taps her foot in impatience and frustration, and plants kisses wherever bare flesh is offered.

Perhaps think twice before bringing the kids. Puppetry is presented in all its forms: There are strings, there are also table top and shadow puppets. Then large deer and horses stride across the apron stage. A beautifully crafted hare appears, as Venus tries to persuade Adonis to pursue a less dangerous quarry than a boar. The boar duly makes its appearance, and is a truly impressive beast. When Venus believes Adonis is dead, and curses death, Death’s appearance is the most remarkable manipulation of all. Superb as the puppetry is, the story has to be told, and the narration by Suzanne Burden is masterful. She is assisted by the wonderful guitar work of Nick Lee, whose evocative playing does so much to establish mood and atmosphere. At only an hour long, it’s well worth a visit, with time for a meal or drink afterwards. But don’t delay; the run ends on August 4th.

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