Visually impaired Shakespearean director Christopher Hunter penetrated the dark heart of Shakespeare’s sensationally successful poem Venus and Adonis to create States of Mind, produced by Extant.
Written during a plague epidemic that shut London’s theatres, the extraordinary poem Venus and Adonis was Shakespeare’s first published work and an instant bestseller. Whilst the poem is known primarily for its erotic subject matter, it has theatre at its heart with rich detailed characterisations, vivid imagery and psychological truth. The visual language and youthful vibrancy of the poetry make it an exhilarating and accessible ride. But the romanticism of the riveting narrative conceals disturbing themes of desire, rejection, sexual power, resistance and love.
The original poem provides the inspiration for a compelling exploration of erotic power in States of Mind – Hunter’s play retains all the richness of Shakespeare’s language as it examines the poem through a 21st century lens. The play relocates Shakespeare’s poetry into the clinical setting of an institutional room to explore the darker themes that lie beneath the poem’s erotic veneer. The focus of the play is its two characters, and the issues surrounding their attempts to escape a cycle of coercion, lust and love that they find themselves trapped in. By transforming the story into a highly charged contemporary setting, it reveals how this early work of Shakespeare’s could have been written for audiences today.
Christopher Hunter comments, “Venus and Adonis itself is 1196 lines in length, and the entire poem revolves around a single sexual encounter and its aftermath. I became fascinated with the detail and the psychological complexity that Shakespeare used to depict this event, which is wrapped up inside a fairly simple narrative…I found that, by discarding this narrative, a host of possibilities opened up whereby the poem’s internal narrative could be explored, and this became far more interesting.”
Extant’s cast of visually impaired actors took the words of the world’s most visual dramatist to demonstrate how a vivid physical and emotional landscape can be created through the power of language. Also by delivering integrated audio description through the theatricality of a medical observation room, this feature of the production – though primarily for a visually impaired audience –was designed to include sighted members to enhance their own enjoyment of the piece.
Gillian Dean (Crystal Clear, Old Red Lion; Home Fires, ITV) and Robin Paley Yorke (My Darling Christopher, Hot Coals) were cast in the premiere of States of Mind.