Venus and Adonis – a Play Within a Play of the Sonnet

Venus and Adonis

Venus and Adonis was filled with such strong performances; it came as no surprise to learn that the cast from Sport for Jove Theatre Company had previously been involved in the world of Shakespeare’s plays. Their delivery of various sonnets scattered throughout Venus and Adonis showcased their skills of navigating and steering the linguistics in a way that enthralled the audience.

I was particularly impressed with Anthony Gooley’s portrayal of William Shakespeare and how he coincided with the creation of sonnets in his mind by performing them aloud as the words appeared on the wall behind him as he spoke. This was a wonderfully original piece of visual theatre.

Venus and Adonis was written and directed by award-winner Damien Ryan, who has directed over 40 productions with Sport for Jove Theatre. I was at the opening night world premiere at The Seymour Centre for the play three years after the feature film of the same name was released in 2020. Many of the cast reprised their roles for this live performance.

Venus and Adonis

It is a bold story of the woman rival to Shakespeare, his secrets, intertwining his wife Agnes Hathaway (Bernadette Ryan) and a personal family tragedy into an engrossing stage production. Bernadette garnered my sympathy as Will’s wife and put in a powerful performance with lines that cut.

The play begins dramatically, introducing us to William Shakespeare and his mistress, Aemilia Lanyer, played by Adele Querol, who also performs the role of Venus. Adele’s solid performance as both Aemilia and Venus stood out as both characters were strong women, with Aemilia (Millie) having a voice essential to the play’s theme.

Damien Ryan brought Millie into the story as a talented poetess and stage actor during the late 1500s when women were not as valued as men and not allowed to perform on stage or be published. (Aemilia Lanyer was the first Englishwoman poet to publish a volume of original verse in 1611).

Adele brought depth when she was portraying Aemelia, who played Venus in a private performance for Queen Elizabeth I. Belinda Giblin’s version of Queen Elizabeth I was both commanding and regal, showcasing a distinct no-nonsense intelligence and sharp humour, especially toward the second half of the play.

Alongside Venus in this play for the Queen was Adonis, performed by Jerome Meyer. In the sonnet, this character was ‘hunt obsessed’ and fairly bland but was brought to life colourfully as Jerome’s portrayal of Nathaniel (Nate) Field, who took on the challenge of playing a male. Nate was previously only performing female roles.

The supporting cast in the ‘play within a play’ was outstanding, with all cast members eliciting laughs consistently. The production and careful costume design by Bernadette Ryan firmly placed us in the Tudor period.

The stage was cleverly lit, with lighting designer Sophie Parker using mirrors and shadows to create atmosphere throughout the play. This was particularly poignant during an emotional scene with Hamnet Shakespeare, played by Liv Rey Laaksonen.

The use of music, composed by Jay Cameron and played whilst the characters spoke, provided the feel of a dramatic cinematic layer.

Venus and Adonis is an original stage production that I recommend for both Shakespeare fans and those who aren’t very keen on sonnets – who knows, after seeing this play, you may find yourself falling in love with the beauty of poetry.

Venus and Adonis is playing in the Reginald Theatre at The Seymour Centre, on the corner of City Rd and Cleveland St, Chippendale, between 29 September – 21 October 2023.

Duration: 165 minutes (including interval)


  • Full $54
  • Concession (Pensioner, Veteran, Full-time Student, Senior) $42
  • Under 35/ Groups of 8+ $39

This review also appears on It’s On The House.

Venus and Adonis
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