Venus and Adonis

It is a rare treat to hear a dramatised performance of Shakespeare’s first published work, Venus and Adonis. Publishedin 1593, the poem became the bestseller of its day, helped to a certain extent by the closure of theatres during an outbreak of plague. Its intense, amorous plot gives it ample potential for more than just reading. Performer, Christopher Hunter comments, “I read the poem and fell in love with its incredibly vivid language and pounding narrative... the performer in me found Venus and Adonis extremely exciting – it was clearly the work of a dramatist and it had theatre at its core – so I set out to explore the possibility of turning the poem into a one-man play.”

Today, the tabloid press would make sensational headlines out of this story of a beautiful, young virgin boy on an innocent hunting trip being found dead in the woods with evidence of sexual assault.

He has done so with remarkable success. Seated on a bench, dressed somewhat surprisingly in a modern suit with a briefcase beside him, he has a number of crumpled-up pieces of paper on the floor around him. He starts to read from one before discarding it and proceeding to recount the tale from memory. Throughout the performance subtle sounds, music and adjustments to lighting highlight various passages and assist the changes of mood. Hunter manifestly relishes the vivid verse. In an outpouring of linguistic lusciousness his mouth and lips form each word as though themselves indulging in the wildly erotic acts he describes. In preparatory textual analysis he discovered that “a darker and more sinister narrative started emerging from the soft-focus of Elizabethan erotica”. Through the exquisitely enunciated lines, deft actions and focussed movements Hunter gives full weight to scenes of love and lust, temptation and trauma and violence and vice.

Today, the tabloid press would make sensational headlines out of this story of a beautiful, young virgin boy on an innocent hunting trip being found dead in the woods with evidence of sexual assault.

In developing this piece he presented his ideas to the RSC who put the project into R&D and with them he work-shopped an earlier version. This production is co-directed by David Salter for The Noontide Sun and Close Quarter Productions. As always in the theatre there is probably room for further work, particularly in the use of pauses to break up the scenes and allow those of us hearing it for the first time to take in the fast-flowing action. Much happens in Shakespeare's twenty-four hour plot. Much is also happening with Hunter’ adoption of SurvivorsUK, a charity that supports male victims of sexual abuse, who have helped and supported him in bringing Venus and Adonis to fruition and whom he aims to help in any way he can through this production.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

‘Sexually experienced woman seduces beautiful virgin boy.' Written during the plague outbreak of 1592 that shut London’s theatres, Venus and Adonis was Shakespeare’s first published work, and an instant bestseller. The vivid language and youthful vibrancy of the poetry make it an exhilarating ride. But the eroticism of the pounding narrative conceals dark and disturbing themes about love, desire and sexual power. Christopher Hunter reimagines Shakespeare’s narrative poem as a one-man play exploring what lies behind a tale of rejected lust played out against the highest stakes.

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