Stratford Upon Avon
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE: William Shakespeare
RSC, Main House
Tkts: 0844 800 1110
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval, to 02 09 15
Review: Alexander Ray Edser 27 05 15
Lots of energy, but lacks depth
MERCHANT is a notoriously difficult play to get to work. On one hand it’s a light-hearted comedy, three sets of lovers for instance; though the casket scenes can seem interminable. On the other hand it’s a play of very nasty anti-Semitism. It’s likely Shakespeare’s audiences didn’t worry too much about that aspect, may even, like many of the characters, have enjoyed it, but to our sensibilities today, it’s horrible. In the Swan, the RSC offers us Marlowe’s take on anti-Semitism and bold it is too.
That having been said we are where we are, and MERCHANT offers us some of Shakespeare’s most beautiful and poignant poetry – shared fairly among the characters.
Polly Findlay, her eye perhaps on connecting with a young audience, has cast her play young. This gives the production a welcome vigour and energy. But she doesn’t appear to address the complex issues within the text. The youthful vigour often becomes a declamatory style that’s tiring to listen to and works only on a superficial level. There is little to like in the main set of young people – from Venice and Belmont – and there is much to dislike. Even Antonio, potentially a good performance from Jamie Ballard, in a poorly judged decision is allowed no dignity at his impending torture and death. The interpretation here owes more to 21st Century suburbia than poetic, uplifting nobility. The actor cannot be held entirely, or even partially, to blame.
But perhaps nobility is out of fashion now, and it is yours truly who is behind the times.
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd creates a Bassanio with a great deal of boyish charm, but it’s hard to believe his passion either for Portia nor Antonio. Patsy Ferran manages an excellent transformation from Portia to the learned doctor, but as Portia it is difficult to imagine she’s been born into great wealth. Makram J Khoury’s Shylock is workmanlike, but scales neither the heights nor plumbs the depths.
As a school production I would say Polly Findlay has a great success, but on the main house at Stratford, I would say it’s poor fare.
Nadia Albina – Nerissa
David Ajao – Singer/Citizen of Venice
Jamie Ballard – Antonio
Scarlett Brookes – Jessica
James Corrigan – Lorenzo
Eva Feiler – Lady/Attendant
Patsy Ferran – Portia
Owen Findlay – Salerio
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd – Bassanio
Guy Hughes – Singer/Citizen of Venice
Makram J Khoury – Shylock
Rina Mahoney – Portia’s Servant/Duke of Venice
Ken Nwosu – Gratiano/Morocco
Brian Protheroe – Aragon
Jay Saighal – Solanio
Tim Samuels – Launcelot Gobbo/Tubal
Director – Polly Findlay
Set designer – Johannes Schütz
Costume designer – Anette Guther
Lighting – Peter Mumford
Music – Marc Tritschler
Sound – Gareth Fry
Movement – Aline David