Venus & Adonis

Natasha Ciesielski
6th Oct 2023

Whilst the name Shakespeare and his literature is known throughout the world, that of his rumored rival, lover and muse, Amelia Lanyer is less known. Venus & Adonis gives voice to the poet hidden in history, the poet that Shakespeare loved and yet borrowed her life and the words said to him, for his own stories.

The play, intended for the stage but blocked by COVID was released as a feature film in 2020 and now (finally) makes its world premiere in the theatre. Most of the film cast join the stage production including the leads Anthony Gooley as Shakespeare, and Adele Querol playing Amelia Lanyer. The adulterous couple are alluring with their heated passion, for each other and for their art - the written word. 

Written and directed by Damien Ryan, Venus & Adonis is highly entertaining which isn’t surprising given Ryan’s previous theatre adaptations of Cyrano de Bergerac and Antigone both won Sydney Theatre Awards for best production. 

The play is confronting, from the full-frontal nudity to the sex scenes, crude language and acts of violence. And in this way is a very accurate portrayal of life in the 1500’s. It’s set in a time of the London plague, theatres are closed, players are out of work and syphilis is rife throughout the kingdom.

It’s believed the Bard (Shakespeare) was syphilitic, also suffering from the affliction. Obsessed with the disease, in 1593 he wrote Venus & Adonis - his first published work -the sensual story of Venus, the goddess of Love and of her unrequited love to the handsome human Adonis. The poem was considered a scandalous response to the pestilence and an epic work about the very things lost - intimacy, identity, and the erotic freedom of touch.

Audiences will need to concentrate as Venus & Adonis shifts focus, from the tumultuous relationship between Shakespeare and Lanyer, to the failure of his marriage with Anne Hathaway. The play also becomes a meta-drama (play within a play) as Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis is to be performed at court for the Queen and we (the audience) are treated to the behind the scenes rehearsal, along with the onstage performance.

Venus & Adonis is dramatic comedy at its best thanks to the brilliant script and talented casting of quick witted performers. Belinda Giblin plays Queen Elizabeth I and her years of acting give her role a well-deserved gravitas, as her very stage presence commands audience attention.

Venus & Adonis runs for 3 hours however this is a fast moving, smartly scripted play and with 13 actors, there’s enough going on stage to constantly engage the audience. At times the language of Shakespeare may be hard to follow, especially with the double meaning behind many of his lines. however, this is a highly entertaining, clever show that will have you guffawing.  Four stars. Highly recommend.

Venus & Adonis is playing now at Seymour Centre till the 21 October.

Photo by Kate Williams