Saturday, January 28

Venus Rising – Liverpool Theatre Festival

Pulsing with energy and sprinkled with laughs, Venus Rising takes you on a trolley ride of emotion through the life of an accidental erotic writer. Performed as a monologue, it has you perched with anticipation.

Meet James Wilkinson. All he had ever wanted to do was write, but not like this. Having made a drunken bet with a friend, James finds success carving out his own greasy niche in the market. Life should be brilliant, shouldn’t it?

It is clear from the staging – a messy room with several wine bottles – that life is perhaps not as brilliant as you’d expect for a writer supposedly living the dream everyone else has. But that’s the problem; he’s not the one living the dream.

He’s the most successful person you’ll ever meet, and you’d never know it. He hates his job, hates his life, he’s drinking too much, and his wife’s left him. This is a very modern Love Story about loss, regret, the decisions we make and finding out what we actually need.

Oscillating between self-absorbed and self-pitying to witty and humorous, Venus Rising traps the audience between experiencing a character’s life story and holding them within a snapshot of time – from the beginning of the performance it’s clear James is experiencing something, but it is only at the end that this is revealed more clearly. As you watch, you realise you’re accompanying James Wilkinson on his journey. You begin to root for him to change.

Written by Ian Salmon (Girls Don’t Play Guitars, The Comeback Special and Those Two Weeks) and directed by Julia Kettle, Venus Rising offers an identifiable character who contains a part of all of us. Who hasn’t been frustrated at their job? Who hasn’t felt themselves hurtling in the wrong direction now and again?

Salmon’s character is not only relatable in terms of job dissatisfaction but also in the weaknesses of the human spirit, in how people cope with the things it can be challenging to acknowledge such as loneliness, depression and in how we choose whether to own our vulnerabilities or let them own us.

There is the implicit suggestion of alcoholism early on which is confirmed later in the performance. However, there is a parallel addiction running throughout this performance of the addiction to writing itself and the ideas we carry of the type of success we should be. For James Wilkinson, writing is his Moby Dick.

Although the performance has a pace, it is slightly challenging at times to remain engaged with the character. There are moments when you want things to move on quicker. This are fleeting moments though and do not diminish the overall performance experience.

Nick Sheedy is gives an excellent one-man-show, exuding energy and establishing expert rapport with the audience very early on. His performance, which captures all the nuance of human personality, makes bringing James Wilkinson to life look effortless.

As the performance reached its climactic turning point and the lights dimmed, many of the audience were on their feet. Venus Rising offers a fly-on-the-wall look at one man’s life which, in many ways, is an insight into everyone’s lives.

Info: Strong Language, appropriate for age 14+.

Reviewer: Ezzy LaBelle

Reviewed: 5th September 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★