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Venice Preserved, Swan Theatre, Stratford - review

By Peter Rhodes | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

Technically, Les Dennis's debut with the Royal Shakespeare Company came three weeks ago when he appeared in the comedy The Provoked Wife.

Les Dennis in Venice Preserved. Photo by Helen Maybanks c RSC

But it was a tiny part - blink and you missed him. Now, in Thomas Otway's Restoration political thriller, Dennis gets a chance to remind us there's more to him than comedy and Family Fortunes.

He's an experienced and talented stage actor. He speaks with great power and clarity, bringing poignancy, pride and passion to the role of Priuli, a Venetian senator whose daughter is mixed up in a plot to assassinate all the senators - including him.

But it's still not a leading role. We are left wanting more of Les.

This 1682 play is stamped with the doom-laden description of "rarely performed" and it's not the greatest conspiracy yarn of all time. But director Prasanna Puwanarajah gives it real pace, drawing on the cyberpunk films of his 1980s childhood.

There's a terrific brothel scene in which a splendidly sleazy Antonio, played by John Hodgkinson, begs his dominatrix Aquilina, performed by Natalie Dew, for more favours, and some great rows between the conspirators.

But the honours go to two fine performances by Michael Grady-Hall and Jodie McNee as the doomed husband and wife, Jaffeir and Belvidera, both willing to die for love, loyalty and for each other.

Venice Preserved is at Stratford until September 7.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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