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Venus/Mars, Old Red Lion Theatre

Patrice Etienne
Directed by Rikki Henry
★★★★

Pros: A good mix of humour and emotion, with a truly accessible storyline.

Cons: Parts of it were a little slow, not helped by a boiling hot auditorium!

Our Verdict: A raw and energetic production, with neat and innovative staging.

Courtesy of Martyna Przybsz 

I love a lot of things. I love wearing skinny jeans. I love the feel of moss on my face. I also love lying. But being in love – that’s a different matter. Who actually loves being in love? Who can actually say they’ve fallen in love without the necessary pain that comes with this love? How many times do I want to use the word ‘love’?!

These were the thoughts that crossed my mind as I sat watching Venus/Mars at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Anyone expecting a cryopreserved Patrick Moore to be wheeled out to discuss celestial bodies would have been disappointed. This play was about one thing: the tricky communication barrier between a man and a woman, or rather a boy and a girl.

The two bubbling would-be lovers raced along in bursts of broken words. It took a moment for me to adjust to the urban London vernacular (thank God I watched that Heartless Crew video on Channel U all those years ago) but from that point on it was all systems go.

Adjectives popped out of nowhere, and heads flicked between audience asides and direct speech. As for the rhythmic dialogue, it grew ever louder until it reached a crescendo. It was like two birds singing to each other from separate trees. From this frenzied foliage, the age-old question emerged: would these lovebirds find each other and settle down to build their perfect, unified nest?

But this was no bluebird-infested Disney movie. This wasn’t even one of those Ryan Gosling films where one grumpy look means: “Hey baby, you’re getting ‘Gozzled’ tonight.” This was the painstaking inner torment that everyone can relate to: I like them – do they like me? Do they still like me? Did they ever like me? Why did I tell that Jimmy Savile joke?!

While the two stars were thrashing out their emotional pre-nuptials, interesting things were happening on stage. An androgynous figure lurked about – part improvised set-dresser, part feelings-magnifier – who would writhe in reaction to the spoken words. This figure also pumped out dreamy melodies on a trumpet, giving the obvious London setting an eerie Parisian feel. At first I thought the good people at the Old Red Lion had allowed a busker on stage. However, as the play progressed, the involvement of the figure (played by Jill Cardo) became increasingly integral to the story.

Another nice touch was the set itself – fairly bare on the surface, but lit up sporadically by a number of dangling light bulbs. This was a thoroughly imaginative nod to the planet reference. As things grew more passionate, the actors would frantically orbit their respective light source.

So perhaps the couple weren’t lovebirds, but moths, desperately trying to turn away from the luring, seductive light. The raw and energetic acting from the two leads, Adrian Decosta and Samantha Pearl, sucked me in and transported me to the time of my last blossoming romance with Gisele Bündchen (there’s that lying again). It didn’t matter that there were a few slip-ups in the diction – everyone gets a bit tongue-tied when they’re trying to seal the deal. Besides, a polished performance wouldn’t actually have fitted a story that is so universally unpolished.

As the characters grew more passionate, things heated up. Unfortunately, this was matched by the temperature of the theatre, which was pretty hot. This was my one main gripe. In fact, during the slower, more intimate moments, what I mostly recall were my sticky palms and sweaty feet. Mmm, sexy! And so, although the play itself was richly deserving of my four stars, the whole experience was slightly tainted. I liked it. I liked it a lot. But I didn’t truly love it.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Venus/Mars runs at Old Red Lion Theatre until 15th June 2013
Box Office: 0844 412 4307 or book online at:

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