Writer: Eric Northey
Director: Alyx Tole
Reviewer: Nathan Shreeve
Eric Northey returns to Manchester’s 24:7 Theatre Festival following last year’sTelling Lives, with a play that could easily have the subtitle ‘Telling History’. The Transit of Venus, a play set in Manchester in 1639 is a very cerebral, intelligent piece of writing, which unfortunately results in an overly highbrow performance which lacks any real emotional engagement on the part of the audience. The play feels very much like a historical reenactment or indeed, a history lesson as opposed to a narrative piece of theatre. To Northey’s credit, the script has clearly been highly detailed and researched, and offers an interesting factual insight into the world of Jeremiah Horrocks (played by Nathan Morris). Although Horrocks is a well formed character, Northey seems far more interested with the actual Transit of Venus and the simultaneous faceless conflict between Parliament and the Monarchy rather than with the emotional journeys of his characters who observe both. The events in the play are described with historical and scientific precision, which unfortunately, is not matched in the production values, which make the production feel cheap and amateurish, visually betraying the accuracy of Northey’s script. The play is in need of a designer to visually bring the elements of Northey’s script together in an engaging dynamic stage space.
The script has some very witty moments, and much of the humour is made at the expense of Horrocks’ eagerness to please his love interest, Jenny (Lucy Ward) and her haberdasher father (John McElhatton). These three characters are entertaining and help to elevate the script from being a pure hour of historical exposition, but unfortunately but the onus on historical fact in the play results in the other characters of Horrocks’ mother (Sarah Jane Lee) and members of the military (Ben Rigby and Wesley Pearce) coming across as very two-dimensional textbook examples of 1639 citizens. No emotional attachment is encouraged by these characters, and herein lies the largest flaw in the production. In their attempts to forge an emotional connection with the audience, the competent cast end up overacting and veering dangerously into melodramatic am-dram style performances. This is a shame, as given the opportunity to do so by the script, these actors could undoubtedly offer very subtle, engaging performances.
With a script which, with further development could provide the basis for a very engaging period drama. For anyone interested in Manchester’s history or indeed, the history of science and astronomy, this play is an absolute must see. For those who have less specific interests, The Transit of Venus promised ‘an explosive mix’ of love, science and religion. In reality, this play just about reaches a gentle simmering point, and never truly raises the pulse of its audience.