MERCHANT OF VENICE: In Rep till 21 September

MERCHANT OF VENICE: William Shakespeare
RSC, Main House, Stratford-Upon-Avon
Runs: 3h 20m, one interval, in Rep till 21 Sept
Review: Rod Dungate 21 05 11

I salute you all. Remarkable.

The word ‘ducat’ in Rupert Goold’s production is replaced with ‘dollar’ and this somehow encapsulates the reason for the success of this remarkable production.

There is a problem at the heart of MERCHANT OF VENICE that we find hard to resolve, today – its obvious anti-semitism. We all know it’s there, sometimes we struggle with it, sometimes we try and ignore it; Goold is better – he revels in it.

He sets his production in something like Las Vegas; money drives everything, including a cheesy, media Christianity. Gamblers bet at tables and on trade, even on property development. Goold offers us two contrasting sets of values – the Christian set (glossy and shallow) and Shylock’s (sombre, serious and passionate.) There is no easy right and wrong in Goold’s world, we cannot rest easy in easy conventions.

With this bold conceit, Goold’s production is populist, intelligent, thematically relevant, funny and astoundingly fresh. It’s also brilliant.

As is Patrick Stewart as Shylock. Alongside the razzmatazz and hype of the commercial world, Shylock is a still and modest centre. Removed. We learn why, of course; it’s the hatred he experiences from those around him (who nevertheless want his money.) No one says the world ‘Jew’ in this production . . . they always spit it out, faces contorted with disgust. Stewart’s performances is beautifully detailed, Shylock in every cell. In his final moments there is a terrible resignation that should shame us all.

Extremely strong performances all round. In particular from Scott Handy (Antonio) and Jamie Beamish (Launcelot Gobbo cum Elvis Presley).

As the production moved towards its final moments I hoped against hope that Belmont would not be seen as a Christian beacon . . . Goold plays his trump card. The Belmont scenes are played for their beauty and love, but Portia in Susannah Fielding’s hands saves the day. Fielding plays Portia with an usual range of comedy and passion seamlessly. On her own, at the end, she embodies the unresolved tensions in the world, in the play and in our own hearts.

Rupert Goold and your team, I salute you all.

Antonio: Scott Handy
Salerio: Steve Toussaint
Solanio: Aidan Kelly
Bassanio: Richard Riddell
Lorenzo: Daniel Percival
Gratiano: Howard Charles
Leonardo: Daniel Rose
Shylock: Patrick Stewart
Launcelot Gobbo: Jamie Beamish
Old Gobbo: Des McAleer
Jessica: Caroline Martin
Tubal: Christopher Wright
Duke of Venice: Des McAlee
Jailer: David McGranaghan
Portia: Susannah Fielding
Nerissa: Emily Plumtree
Balthasar: Nikesh Patel
Stephanie: Madeline Apiah
Ladies: Madeline Appiah, Rebecca Brewer
Prince of Morocco: David Ononokpono
Prince of Arragon: Jason Morell
Servant: David McGranaghan
Young Portia: Isobel Moore, Lauren Sanghera, Freya Schmidt-Hansen
Gamblers: Alan Chrstopher, Noel Dollimore, Brian Emeny, Catherine Fannin Peel
Tony Harris, Anne Kosseff, Jaqueline MacDonald, David Mears, David Southerd

Directed by: Rupert Goold
Designed by: Tom Scutt
Lighting by: Rick Fisher
Music by: Adam Cork
Sound by: Gregory Clarke
Choreography: scott Ambler
Music Associate and Orchestrations by: Alex Baranowski
Company Text and Voice Work by: Jacquie Crago
Additional Dialect by: Richard Ryder
Assistant Director: Lisa Blair
Musical Director: Bruce O’Neill
Casting by: Helen Palmer

2011-05-23 09:00:34

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