Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The Merchant Of Venice, National Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

An overnight stay in Stratford, cut short by what turned out to be a wild goose chase courtesy of the estate agents marketing my house. (Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to the closing of this chapter in my life.) 



As if in sympathy, the production we went to see - the RSC's 'The Merchant of Venice', directed by Polly Findlay - was equally rushed. Maybe the cast had tables reserved at the local curry house, maybe they were keen to catch the World Series of Darts on ITV4, but with cuts amounting to almost a third of the play and a breakneck delivery that robbed it of much of its poetry, it was all over in two and a bit hours.

The production isn't helped by the set which fails to give the play any context, the reflective surfaces accentuating the narcissism of characters who have already been stripped of much of their subtlety.  There is no intensity of feeling between any of the characters, with the exception of the lovelorn Antonio, whose passion for Bassiano, himself bent on a marriage of convenience to Portia to improve his financial relations, is the cause of the merchant's deep depression.

This lack of connection is most noticeable in the relationship between Shylock, played by Israeli Arab actor Makram J Khoury, and his daughter, Jessica, who runs off with much of her father's fortune to marry a Christian.  This is important as it is the catalyst for Shylock's later determination to exact vengeance on Antonio, yet the audience never really gets an insight into the reasons behind her behaviour. 



It's a given that none of the characters in 'The Merchant Of Venice' are likeable; in this production, the characters are consumed by their greed and prejudice.  Ultimately, it is the much spat-upon Shylock who elicits the most sympathy, and not just because his costume of cardie and slacks makes him look like Man at C&A.  His dignity in the face of extreme racial abuse makes his lust for vengeance, if not forgiveable, understandable. 


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