Review: Venus and Adonis – C Primo, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Saturday August 26 2017

Four Stars

Published in 1593, the narrative poem Venus and Adonis was a bestseller and the work that made Shakespeare’s name. The Bard obviously intended it to be read rather than performed on stage, but the actor Christopher Hunter finds an electrifying new form for the poem in this small gem of a Fringe show.

The performance requires us to listen and the tiny room at the top of the C venues’ new space on Hill Street provides the necessary intimacy. Alluding to the private, enrapturing experience of losing oneself in words, Hunter opens the show, dressed in suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, sitting on a park bench and slowly entering the poem via a few scribbles on scraps of paper.

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Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The actor makes for a wonderful guide through Shakespeare’s brutally simple story of the doomed encounter between the goddess of love and the chaste youth who enraptures her but who abstains from lovemaking in favour of a tragic hunting trip. Hunter’s unflashy yet alluring performance makes full use of the poem’s distinctive phrasing, the strange blend of musings on simple pastoral beauty with moments of dark comedy. He takes palpable delight in the sensuous language, at times appearing to literally chew on the words.

 

The production, co-directed by David Salter for The Noontide Sun and Close Quarter Productions, clearly revels in beauty while making no attempt to dampen-down the tale’s gorier elements. During the sequence in which the goddess comes across her love’s lifeless body, the blood already congealing, Hunter lifts his face, which is now smeared with red. At one point the actor applies make-up, a poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of mortal beauty.

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Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Sitting through more than a thousand lines of poetry in the middle of the afternoon may be a big ask but Hunter’s performance, the way he inhabits the work’s shifting ambience and characters, more than repays the commitment.

Box office: 0845 260 1234, to August 28

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