Merchant of Venice, Norwich Cathedral. July 2013.
A Shakespeare Festival has been held at Norwich Cathedral for the past few years but for some reason I've never been - or even really noticed it taking place. This year after some mocking by friends on Facebook about how often I go to the theatre the same friends asked if I'd be interested in going with them to a play at the festival!
In the end these two original companions couldn't come and my companions on the evening were Mr Norfolkbookworm and a friend/colleague Jon. It was a perfect evening for outdoor theatre - not too hot, not too cold, not windy and best of all for this summer not raining.
The Merchant of Venice was a new play to me although I knew the basic premise of the plot, I was surprised to see that in the first Folio had categorised the play as a comedy. I know that sensitivities were different in the late 1500s but still I wasn't sure how the topic could be funny...
This version really showed be just why it was classed as comedy - without over acting the humour was apparent throughout, especially in the characters of Portia and Nerissa. In fact the comedy character, Launcelot Gobbo, was one of the weaker areas - the two leading ladies stole the show!
I very much liked how the play was performed, once more the idea that the players were travelling actors from times gone by was clear. The stage was simply some boarding with steps to the left, right and centre and all the props were either carried by the actors or stored in two trunks on the stage which doubled as seats.
The evening we saw Merchant was the first time the company had performed the play in public and just occasionally there was a stutter or stumble but as I can't imagine how actors can keep one part in their minds let alone several for more than one play I don't feel I can criticise.
There are downsides to performing outside (not including the weather) at the Globe the actors contend with helicopters flying low over head. In Norwich the outside noise came from the peregrine falcons that nest on the spire - every time Shylock appeared in the first act it appeared the birds took off and flew around the cloister screaming.
The uncomfortable moment in the play when Shylock is 'reprireved' so long as he renounces his Jewish faith and converts to Christianity was met with a big hiss by the audience in Norwich and that I feel was a nice way to deal with the worst moment of antisemitism whilst still enjoying what was a great performance.
I know that I will be keeping an eagle (or peregrine) eye out for the announcement of the festival next year. I might even pack a picnic and really soak up the atmosphere!
Photo taken from my iPhone - the weather was really much nicer than it looks!