THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
by William Shakespeare.
Queen’s Theatre Billet Lane RM11 1QT To 12 May 2012.
Tue-Sat 8pm Mat 3 May 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 01708 443333.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 February.
A Merchant that doesn’t offer much of a bargain.
Director Glen Walford has produced Shakespeare round the world – I recall her time at Liverpool Everyman in the early eighties including a circus influenced Tempest in-the-round.
Like Hornchurch Artistic Director Bob Carlton, Walford works for a wide audience without being reductively populist. Making it all the more disappointing to find this Merchant isn’t very marketable.
Take Matt Devitt’s Shylock. It’s a good performance, creating a quietly reasonable Shylock, who arrives at the trial in Jewish dress not to show-off but as a means of validating his action. The performance culminates in this trial, where Shylock enjoys having the attention of those who normally ignore him, and a chance to explain what it’s like for him. The slicing of Antonio’s chest will confirm his status, and, when matters turn on him, it doesn’t take long to realise he’s been duped by the Establishment – again.
But it’s a performance in a vacuum. The Duke (dressed as a high Catholic cleric) sits looking awkward, with little sense of authority. Portia delivers “The quality of mercy” mainly out-front; there’s hardly any impression she’s trying to persuade Shylock. Throughout the production characters stand around, dutifully delivering lines but with little sense of being in a scene with anyone else.
A pity, because Rodney Ford has designed a handsome staging based on three pavilions with ornaments and lighting. Only when the court scene lights the whole stage does the set seem flat, and the musicians black keyboards stand incongruously out, framed by red lighting.
By contrast, the interlude from the busy plot, as the lovers left at Portia’s place in Belmont reflect lyrically on their emotions and “touches of sweet harmony” in Carol Sloman’s arrangements give expression to their feelings, is a rich moment.
It lasts till Portia and Nerissa return from a stage-side staircase bringing events with them, making a scene that’s usually something of a hold-up in the play seem its essence. Which is a point in itself; what is the point of uman affairs if not to bring about human happiness? But there are too many arid desserts around this fertile place.
Salerio/Arragon: Jared Ashe.
Shylock: Matt Devitt.
Bassanio: Dominic Ggerrard.
Launcelot Gobbo/Gaoler/Tubal: Simon Jessop.
Lorenzo: Sam Kordbacheh.
Solario/Duke/Morocco: Greg Last.
Gratiano/Old Gobbo: Jonathan Markwood.
Jessica: Natasha Moore.
Antonio: Stuart Organ.
Nerissa: Kate Robson-Stuart.
Portia: Josie Taylor.
Director: Glen Walford.
Designer: Rodney Ford.
Lighting: Mark Dymock.
Sound: Rick Clarke.
Composer/Musical Director: Carol Sloman.
Movement: Natasha Moore.