THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
by William Shakespeare.
Said Business School (Rooftop Amphitheatre) Park End Street OX1 11HP To 1 September 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm no mat 21 July, 1 Sept.
Sun 22 July, 12 Aug 6pm (fancy dress), 29 July, 26 Aug 2.30pm (family show), 5, 26 Aug 11am (with brunch),
Runs 2hr 40min One interval.
TICKETS: 01865 766266.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 17 July.
Love – and money – conquer all, in Business School rooftop revival.
How should we take this “quality of mercy” Portia? As realistic character or fairytale figure? The question comes watching Natalie Abrahami’s open-air revival of The Merchant of Venice (there’s an inside alternative for climatic emergencies). Portia seems able to sort any problem by throwing money at it. Can her Belmont be so remote from the banking and financial centre of Venice, where everything is weighed in value – Abrahami’s production opens with workers transporting packing-cases to form Oliver Townsend’s deliberately inelegant set?
Yet Portia emerges on it sleek and golden. Then, knowing little detail of the matter, she turns up in court well-versed in the law, having discovered who was due to represent the merchant and taken his place. She holds back Antonio’s rescue until the final moment – he could have had a heart-attack waiting.
And she’s critical of her suitors, having attracted a particularly unsuitable lot. Abrahami conspires in this, treating them, silent and speaking alike, as racial stereotypes. Philip Prowse did something similar at Glasgow Citizens’ years ago; the payoff there came in the outcome of such attitudes when Shylock was set-on in the street. Here, he’s glimpsed finally alone with his rituals, while his daughter Jessica, renegade to the Christians, is kept in her place by Portia, sporting a feather-duster and being reminded to clear the glasses.
Again, it’s Portia who leads the unreasonable game with her husband. With its obscene puns and boy actors, the ring business was probably received differently by Elizabethan audiences, but it seems awkward here, on the packing-cases. And Portia’s return noticeably interrupts Jessica and Lorenzo’s love idyll; they stand holding each other at the side as the returning party wrangles.
Still, one audience member had thought the play would end with Shylock’s revenge; others were pleased they could follow it. As an open-air production, it needs to work for a particularly wide range of experience in Shakespearean Merchandise. Among several satisfying performances, Jonathan Oliver is a reliable Shylock. Doffing his hat he reveals a skull-cap: the religious identity beneath the Venetian merchant-class gear. Anger emerges at key moments, oppression underlies his existence.
Antonio: Scott Brooksbank.
Nerissa: Louise Callaghan.
Portia: Leila Crerar.
Gratiano: Gabriel Fleary.
Lancelet: Edward Franklin.
Lorenzo: Jack Monaghan.
Shylock: Jonathan Oliver.
Jessica: Fiona Sheehan.
Bassanio: James Wooldridge.
Director: Natalie Abrahami.
Designer: Oliver Townsend.
Lighting: Ashley Bale.
Composer/Musical Director: Alex Silverman.
Movement: Anna Morrissey.
Assistant director: Miriam Higgins.
Assistant movement: Daniela Forbes.