The South African theatre company Isango Ensemble who last year opened the Globe to Globe Festival, return this April with their superb dramatization of Shakespeare’s epic poem Venus & Adonis. In an interview with Jerome Monahan, the company’s co-founder and artistic director Mark Dornford-May explains the choices and challenges behind his company’s production, the way it has developed since it was last here and the unique experience of performing on the Globe stage.
The story the Isango Ensemble have taken on is a challenge because Venus’ increasing desperation of Venus is potentially very sad and harrowing. Mark explains that they still managed to find fun and humour in it however by choosing to use seven actresses to portray the same role so that the tale only becomes darker and more tragic towards the end.
“We wanted to avoid the idea that Adonis simply does not fancy one particular woman. And practically it was a major part of the fun: seeing how different actresses try to wheedle their way into Adonis’ affections.”
Mark also explains how the various changes in language throughout the piece reflected the new change in Venus who in turn suited that particular section.
In terms of the South-African context from which this piece comes, many of the issues seem particularly prevalent. As Mark says: “Across all cultures, South Africa has a deeply sexist outlook, and it was quite liberating for the women to work on a character who decides what she wants and goes all-out to get it.”
In order to prevent the piece from becoming too static – or, as Mark puts it “falling in love with the poetry; forgetting that you are meant to be creating a piece of exciting active theatre” – the Isango Ensemble use the seven Venuses, puppetry and various forms of dance.
Venus & Adonis will be back on the Globe stage on 29 April, and Mark says it will certainly have developed since we last saw it. He describes it as a “constant process (…) we’ll often take a scene apart and
rebuild it in a completely different way.”
He also spoke about what a fantastic time he and the Isango Ensemble had performing at the Globe this time last year.
“It was an ideal space for us. The great thing about Isango’s performers is that they genuinely enjoy playing for an audience – there’s a lift in energy.”
“We can set about creating magic in that space. At one point Venus goes out into the audience when looking for Adonis, the groundlings become the trees. Wonderful.”
— Matthew. (@matthew_iliffe) April 29, 2013