Director Prasanna Puwuanarajah talks about his new production of Restoration tragedy, Venice Preserved.

Thomas Otway’s rarely-performed Restoration tragedy, Venice Preserved, opens in the Swan Theatre in May and is regarded as one of the most significant tragedies of the 1680s.

A breaktaking love story set in a corrupt Venetian world, Venice Preserved sees impoverished nobleman Jaffeir (Michael Grady-Hall) and senator’s daughter Belvidera (Jodie McNee) marry in secret, causing her oppressive father, Priuli (Les Dennis), to disinherit them. This is the catalyst for Jaffeir to join the underground revolution against the Venetian senate, a desperate decision that tears their lives apart…

A DARK MASTERPIECE

Director Prasanna Puwunarajah talks about what initially attracted him to the play and the influences behind his production. He says: “The play is about what happens to relationships under oppression and in times of huge political upheaval. There is so much love in the play, with relationships trying to happen and trying to live.

"When I read the play, I have a feeling of being in a perpetual night; in a city where unseen power rules unchecked and where counterculture has a space in which to express itself. It’s as much East Berlin in the 1970s and 80s. It’s a play where people map the collapse of their spirit onto the collapse of a city state, and they need to rescue one in order to rescue the other.”

Prasanna describes his version of the play as Restoration Blade Runner meets Gotham: “It has all the noir elements of the dystopian graphic novel or DC Comics. I’m a child of the 80s so these things represent the space in which I grew up, so the play is reaching into that space in me, as much as me seeing those things in the play.”

A man smiles.
Director Prasanna Puwanarajah in rehearsal for Venice Preserved.
Photo by Helen Maybanks © RSC Browse and license our images

A BREATHTAKING LOVE STORY

At its heart, Venice Preserved is a breathtaking love story between Jaffeir and Belvidera. Of his two leading actors, Prasanna says: “Both Michael and Jodie are incredible performers of complex roles. They are supple, electric, heartbreaking, and really quite delicate. In trying to find the human in these characters they really couldn’t be better suited to these roles, quite apart from the fact that they are really wonderful people and terrific collaborators. I really love working with them and they are loving working with each other.”

DANGEROUS AND VINDICTIVE POWER

Prasanna believes great plays will always speak to current audiences: “Venice Preserved has incisive things to say about dangerous and vindictive idiots in power, and about the ongoing and multifaceted pressures faced by women in the world.

"I’ve tried at every step to make the play feel human and real, to pull away from anything presentational or grandiose and push towards investigating who the people are and what they need to achieve. I want the production to be exciting and thrilling, and at the same time I want it to truly deliver people in a moment of devastation.”

Venice Preserved plays in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 24 May – 7 September.

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