Theatre Review: Venus/Mars, a new play by Patrice Ettiene – Old Red Lion Theatre, Islington

Patrice Ettiene has written a fresh take on a modern love story with Venus/Mars currently making its debut at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel.  His language is cool , poetic and certainly does not deliver the usual kind of theatrical dialogues we’re used to seeing on the London stage.  His style is a cross between the spoken word  and a more conventional playwriting  tradition.

Venus/Mars is a love story set in the Big Smoke of 2013. A girl meets a boy in the club. The boy likes the girl . The girl is digging on the boy. The girl and boy go on a date and become exclusive then the honeymoon phase is over , the masks come off and the question is can the couple keep  it together? The couple in question in is Daniel ( Adrian Decosta) and Michelle (Samantha Pearl) a young modern day  London couple.  They get together pretty fast and we see the evolution of a relationship of over a year in just 1 hour and twenty minutes.

There is also a third character and that is the mysterious trumpet player played by Jill Cardo who seems to loom behind the scenes adding a squeak of her horn when things get tense between the new lovers  or adds soft jazz sounds to the mix when the couple shares more romantic moments.  When conflicts erupt Cardo is behind the characters  symbolically acting out their despair  and at one point throws up on stage while Michelle is lashing out her frustrations in a rant.  I thought that Cardo’s role at times seemed a bit disjointed and did not always serve the story well .  With that said, I must say live trumpet playing on stage and Cardo herself were both very entertaining.

The  set was quite simple made up of hanging lightbulbs and  two chairs at the back where we find our lonely trumpeter. The characters begin by giving their first monolgoues directly to the audience.  Both talk about getting ready for their big night out and I thought Pearl was excellent at really bringing out all the different girlfriends she impersonates who will accompany her to the club that night.  Ettiene’s dialogue snaps back and forth between monologues which tend to narrate each character’s thoughts and direct dialogue between the two characters.  Although I really enjoyed the device initially there were moments as the play developed where I wanted to see the two actors connect more face to face.  It was when they engaged in more direct dialogue as opposed to when they broke off to verbalise their thoughts that I found them to be at their strongest.  Pearl has a really beautiful expressive face which she knows how to control and I also really appreciated Decosta’s overconfident young bachelor on the town attitude.  They were both able to let Ettiene’s poetic style flow pretty fluidly and this fluidity also carried over in their more physical moments on stage.

Director Rikki Henry clearly has a knack for choreographing some really good physical theatre and I particularly thought the intimate moments on stage were executed beautifully. I would be curious to see what Ettiene has to offer us next.  He’s got  a unique take on playwriting and I find his experimentation with tempo and poetic forms in the theatre to be intriguing.

Venus/ Mars is on until June 15th at the Old Red Lion Theatre http://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/venus-mars.htm.

About Melissa Palleschi

Melissa Palleschi New York actress living in London and trained in Italy, New York and here in London at the Actors Studio. She is also a founding member of the Planktonic Players, who made their London debut at Camden Fringe Festival in 2012.

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