THE MERCHANT OF VENICE: William Shakespeare.
RSC: Courtyard, Stratford.
Information and booking: www.rsc.org.uk
Runs: 3 hours, one interval, till Saturday 27 September.
Review: Rod Dungate, 14 April 2008.
An anaemic production – and it’s not Shylock’s fault.
Tim Carroll’s production is efficient, accurate but fails to engage in a meaningful way. There were also either a group of technical cock-ups at the performance I saw or bizarre directorial/design choices – I suspect the latter. There’s one exception to this; Angus Wright’s intriguing and engrossing Shylock.
Carroll updates the play to a kind of modern day and keeps it in a kind of Italy where kind of English businessmen work and socialise. One of the problems with this production is its lack of commitment – here to time and place.
It’s possible that Carroll makes a decision that passion in modern times is ‘uncool’; so, for whatever reason, passion is singularly absent. Bassanio, in Belmont, having learnt of Antonio’s misfortunes asks: ‘And not one vessel ‘scape the dreadful touch/ Of merchant-marring rocks?’ with the passion of: ‘Is the cricket match rained off again?’
The play (the writing of the time) associates Italy with passion; there are anomalies in that Bassanio appears to court Portia for her wealth and then conveniently falls in love with her. These quirks create dramatic tension. Without the passion the play becomes pedestrian, a script that runs on auto-cue before our eyes.
Angus Wright’s Shylock in terrific. He’s nervy, subdued, a quiet simmering vessel of hatred brought to the boil by the society in which he lives – who both use him and despise him. Wright creates a Shylock of great dignity; his own expressions of hatred grate, giving his performance a sharp edge.
Jack Laskey’s Bassanio is a nice enough chap but Laskey fails to give him depth and intelligence. The rest of his crowd are amiable, but I wouldn’t care to spend much time with them.
Georgina Rich’s Portia has charm but not charisma. Both she and Amanda Hadingue (Nerissa) score highly in their male disguises.
Some casting, though, is decidedly sub-standard.
Antonio: James Garnon.
Bassanio: Jack Laskey.
Salerio: Simon Darwen.
Solanio: Keir Charles.
Lorenzo: Patrick Moy.
Gratiano: John Paul Connolly.
Shylock: Angus Wright.
Jessica: Armara Karan.
Launcelot Gobbo: William Beck.
Old Gobbo: Larrington Walker.
Tubal: Peter Shorey.
Duke of Venice: Leonard Fenton.
Portia: Georgina Rich.
Nerissa: Amanda Hadingue
Prince of Morocco: Arsher Ali.
Prince of Arragon: Sean Kearns.
Serving Man: Adrian Decosta.
Serving Woman: Jade Anouka.
Balthasar: Will Sharpe.
Directed by: Tim Carroll.
Designed by: Laura Hopkins.
Lighting Designed by: Jon Clark.
Music by: Jon Boden.
Sound Designed by: Jeremy Dunn.
Movement by: Sian Williams.
Assistant Director: Pia Furtado.
Music Director: Bruce O’Neil.
Company Voice Work by: Charmian Hoare.
Casting by Sam Jones.