THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
by William Shakespeare.
Derby Theatre Theatre Walk DE1 2NF To 26 February 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm & 23 Feb 1.30pm.
Audio-described 23 Feb 7.30pm, 26 Feb 2.30pm.
BSL Signed 19 Feb 2.30pm, 24 Feb.
Pre-show Talk: 24 Feb 6.30pm.
Post-show Discussion: 24 Feb.
Education Day 17 Feb 4pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01332 255800.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 February.
Two worlds contrasted on stage in fine-looking production.
Apart from Antony and Cleopatra – and with more consistency than in the Roman tragedy – this is the Shakespeare play where an alternation of locations is key to meaning. When Bassanio borrows money from his merchant friend Antonio to court Portia he clearly needs the money to travel some distance. But there’s more than mileage between Belmont and Venice.
Patrick Connellan’s settings make this clear. The Venetian men are first seen at the roulette table, surrounded by the dark walls of a bigger lottery: a commodity-exchange. Each commodity has its space for trade-prices – including the gold, silver and lead which take on a different significance with Portia’s caskets in Belmont.
This land of the women opens up behind. The Exchange’s panels slide apart, revealing a bright, green place, a horned-gramophone emphasising the 1920s setting for Pete Meakin’s revival. It’s good timing – here was a prosperous decade that ended with a financial crash. Just like now, in fact.
It’s true money gives Portia the confidence Camilla Arfwedson so naturally shows. But it’s not what makes her happy. That’s love, and all she fears is the wrong man opening the right casket and earning the right to marry her. This production’s scenic contrast highlights that Shakespeare wasn’t playing a game of chance with love, but showing how human values can determine action.
Human affection over-rides monetary gain too. Throughout, moments of tension between young Bassanio and George Telfer’s subtly-played, older Antonio indicate unspoken feelings. Sam Phillips’ Bassanio occasionally senses this, brushing it aside with a manly gesture based in embarrassment. Antonio, who has faced death for a man he loves, is finally left alone, sadly crumpling the letter telling of his restored fortune. Money without love lacks meaning.
It’s not perfect, though. There’s some indifferent playing outside the central roles and while Arfwedson brings clarity to Portia’s speech the voice has little tonal variety. Overall, verse can be chopped-up unhelpfully and there’s a noticeably static quality to much of the acting. Only Paul Rider’s Shylock turns this to advantage, containing anger physically and vocally until his few seconds of knife-wielding apparent triumph.
Portia: Camilla Arfwedson.
Lorenzo: Robert Boulter.
Gratiano: Peter Caulfield.
Jessica: Fiona Hampton.
Servant: Adam Horvath.
Tubal/Duke: Stephen Omer.
Bassanio: San Phillips.
Shylock: Paul Rider.
Prince of Morocco/Prince of Arragon: Sydney Smith.
Antonio: George Telfer.
Nerissa: Haz Webb.
Director: Pete Meakin.
Designer: Patrick Connellan.
Lighting: Chris Ellis.
Sound: Adam McCready.