Could you reproduce Venice — in a new development building in Deptford? That's what Venice Preserv'd tries to do. Adapted and produced by theatre company The Spectators' Guild, the production defines itself as adventure theatre and immersive production, though you may disagree with just how immersive by the end of the evening.
Inspired by Thomas Otway's 1682 tragedy, the plot involves themes such as idealism, corruption, rebellion, friendship, honour and love. Jaffier wants to rise against Priuli, one of Venice's senators, who is against our hero's marriage to his daughter Belvidera. Jaffier soon finds an ally in Pierre, who is one of his best friends and a plotter against the Serenissima Republic's Senate.
The action plan is quickly sealed: get rid of the Senate and start a new Venetian era of justice and equality. But Jaffier finds obstacles in his own path, divided between the love he feels for Belvidera and his promise of honour. Soaked with idealism, the conspirators want to preserve Venice from a future of corruption and decadence: it's the never-ending battle between the new generation and the old system. Will they manage to serve out their idealistic cause?
The experience starts from Greenwich pier, just next to the Cutty Sark. You can decide whether to get to the pier with a Thames Clipper or just turn up on the spot, where a Venetian carnival parade welcomes you and leads you to the play's location. You get approached by Venetian masks and induced to imagine the river Thames as the waters of Venice. Then, you arrive at the venue, the carnival soon disappears and the play begins.
Jessie Buckley is absolutely remarkable as Belvidera, imbuing her with strength, passion and communicating extreme feelings with her body language. But even with the great physical acting and captivating plot, Venice Preserv'd isn't a real immersive theatre experience. You don't take part in the play, you are just part of the audience who is invited to follow scene by scene, and the distance between actors and audience is the same as in a traditional theatre play. We're kind of involved when we're given a red cape and sit down in one of the rooms pretending to be the Senate, but even there we still felt like a passive spectator. And of course there's the stunning view of Canary Wharf and Isle of Dogs in the background, should you start to get distracted.
Venice Preserv'd takes place both outside and inside Paynes & Borthwick building, SE8 3JF, until 7 June. Tickets priced £35 or £45 if purchasing the boat tour as well, available on the website. Londonist received a complimentary ticket to review this show.