New theatre company aims to create 17th century Venice in Greenwich
The Spectators' Guild has been formed by director Charlotte Westenra and two former members of Secret Cinema
New 'adventure-theatre' company The Spectators' Guild is launching next month with a site-specific revival of Thomas Otway's rarely-performed restoration tragedy Venice Preserv'd.
Starring Ashley Zhangarzha and Jessie Buckley, both recently seen in Michael Grandage's Henry V, the production, which runs from 30 April to 8 June 2014 (previews from 24 April), aims to recreate the settings of 17th-century Venice at Paynes and Borthwick Wharf in Greenwich.
The Spectators' Guild has been founded by producer Harry Ross, director Charlotte Westenra and production designer Helen Scarlett O'Neill. Ross and O'Neill are the former producer and production designer of Secret Cinema.
Westenra, an associate artist of the Gate Theatre, told WhatsOnStage the company is interested in "giving the audience a narrative experience in a beautiful, significant space".
"What's very important to us is that the narrative of the play carries the audience through," she added. "And we have an online world so that people can become part of the story before they come along."
Venice Preserv'd will see audiences travel on the Thames Clipper to Cutty Sark, where they'll be met by a "group of revellers" and transfer to the main venue for a "Venetian carnival". Audience members will be invited to wear traditional Venetian carnival masks and costume, and indulge in Italian food and drinks.
Designer Helen Scarlett O'Neill said the aim is to take the audience on a "shared emotional arc", as opposed to fellow site-specific specialists Punchdrunk who encourage audience members to pick their own route through a narrative. "We don't want to do anything for the sake of it, because it's cool or quirky - everything is there to serve the story."
Regarding the recent floods that have affected communities further along the Thames, O'Neill added: "The play is set in a sinking city, and that's a huge part of its contemporary relevance."
The site for Venice Preserv'd, Paynes and Borthwick Wharf, is a former ship engine factory overlooking the river in West Greenwich, which is being restored for use as homes and offices, as well as an art gallery and restaurant.
The property developers, a partnership between United House and LaSalle Investment Manager with Lane Castle, are supporting the production with over £100,000 of funding.
Producer Harry Ross said: "It's been a wonderful reality to deal with people who want to make a difference in a commercial environment. It's good to know that when we leave this is going to be an arts space - we hope to leave a very positive legacy."
Jeffrey Adams, chief executive of United House, responded: "The production at Paynes and Borthwick demonstrates how our approach to development delivers new life and energy to an area - bringing the excitement of West End theatre to West Greenwich."
First staged in 1682, Venice Preserv'd tells the tragic story of a group of young revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the corrupt and decadent Venetian senate. This marks the play's first outing as a site-specific, promenade production.
The full cast is: Jessie Buckley (Belvidera), Pip Donaghy (Antonio), Emilio Doorgasingh (Pruili), Julian Harries (Pantelone), James Hillier (Bedamore/ Doge), Ferdinand Kingsley (Pierre), Zoot Lynam (Pulchinela), Sufia Manya (Isabella), Simon Rhodes (Spinosa), Ceridwen Smith (Columbina), Martin Troakes (Renault), Miguel H Torres Umber (Arlecchino), Dwayne Walcott (Eliot) and Ashley Zhangarzha (Jaffier).
For further details, visit www.venicepreserved.co.uk