Scena Mundi Theatre Company‘s first new venture for the year (as part of their SEASON 2017) is their inaugural FORUM event – this one focused on the story of Venus & Adonis. Several poems have been written about it, most famously Ovid (in his Metamorphoses) and Shakespeare. It was the latter’s narrative poem that formed the heart of this session.
To provide a bit of context for the central tale, we were treated to several other readings, as well as some musical interludes. Emma Hall’s a cappella soprano voice transported us through the ages, and the natural acoustics of St Giles-in-the-Fields provided a beautiful slight echo as the words rang out. These were nestled in between readings from Jack Christie. Ovid (whose death 2000 years ago is being marked in 2017) was a schoolboy staple in Shakespeare’s day – so, as the ultimate inspiration for Venus & Adonis, it felt only right to start with a section from this.
Further readings travelled on in time, visiting the 1400s for John Lydgate’s Reson and Sensuallyte and 1588 (just before Shakespeare came to prominence) with Robert Greene’s Prince’s Sonnets, Wantom Youth and Wantom Youth Reproved. Dr Charles Moseley (professor of Classics and Literature at the University of Cambridge and Scena Mundi’s literary advisor) then gave a short introduction into the background of the creation of Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis, which whet our appetites before a short break.
The second part of the evening went straight into the dramatised reading of Venus & Adonis, with Pip Brignall as Venus, Tom Winsor as Adonis and Maggie Robson narrating. Emma Hall also accompanied at certain points on the flute.
I was familiar with the rough story through my knowledge of classical mythology, however I’d never read or heard Shakespeare’s poem before, so it was great for this to be my first encounter with it. By having three voices for the three distinct parts it brought events to life much more than if one person had taken on that mammoth task – or had I simply read it. This approach ensured the meanings of the lines were not lost, and allowed the unexpected humour to come across. I also appreciated the two subjects being read by men, backed by a female narrator, as it provided just the right amount of variety for a listener – on top of capturing what it was like in Elizabethan times with boys taking on the female roles. In such an historic environment that was quite fitting.
Following this everyone assembled for a discussion on the text & its performance, led by Dr Charles Moseley. As is the case in many events of this type, it was a little slow to get going while the audience digested what they’d seen & heard, but once a few found their voices the discussion was lively & interesting. On future FORUM nights it may be beneficial for someone on the panel to be primed with a few questions for the guest academic to kickstart conversation & provide a little direction early on. It was fascinating to hear Dr Moseley’s input as he drew on his wealth of literary knowledge.
Personally, I wish there were more events of this nature going on. Shakespeare’s Globe leads the way with study days, lectures & workshops on their seasons; the RSC’s Barbican residencies are usually embellished by some talks & debates, plus the National & Old Vic Theatres also put on similar pre- or post-show discussions. This is something that really should spread to the West End and beyond to propagate knowledge & insight about all types of theatre, not just the classics.
I’m glad to see Scena Mundi experimenting with these events, putting their hugely talented actors alongside academics to provide educational as well as entertaining evenings. I hope they are able to continue with more in between their wonderful productions, as I definitely left feeling enlightened.