Friday, 8 May 2015

Theatre 2015: Review Thirteen

The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's Globe, London. May 2015.

Just three days after seeing Romeo and Juliet with mum I was back at the Globe with Mr Norfolkbookworm although at one point the trains again seemed to be working against us and I wasn't certain we'd get there in time.

I'm so glad that we did get there because this is a glorious production from start to finish.  It had a huge cast compared to earlier in the week and sumptuous costumes and I really felt I was living in Venice and not twenty-first century England.

This version of the play gave a lot of humanity to Shylock - he is treated abominably by the Venetians and his insistence on the pound of flesh becomes far more understandable; however his treatment of his daughter and his lament for his money not her balances this out. He has become a complex character and not a pantomime villain nor a martyr.

I found the Venetian men to be arrogant and far more villainous in this staging but even then they were reined in enough that I still felt sympathy with them, and the reading of Antonio and Bassanio was heartbreaking.

I found the female characters to be fully rounded and fun to watch.  Portia's scenes with  her suitors were suitably funny but not overblown and her turn as the disguised lawyer was very well done - she was well enough disguised that when Bassanio failed to recognise her in the courtroom scene I could believe this. Jessica's scenes with her father - especially those in Hebrew - were brilliant, her scenes with her lover/husband slightly less so.

The other 'comic' character in the play was also suitably restrained, and rather than being tedious the small amount of Groundling interaction really worked.  There was just enough levity in the play to relieve the tension of the main plot but it never got out of hand.

The last time I saw this play I was left feeling uncomfortable about the way the inherent anti-Semitic plot strand was handled but in this version I found it to be sympathetically staged whilst still being abhorrent.  There was a clear delineation between Jessica's conversion and that of Shylock which made a very moving finale to the play. The ending did mean no jig but this was the right decision.

I did wonder how Jonathan Pryce would find the open space of the Globe theatre but he had me in the palm of his hand I hope he'll become a regular actor there.  The nice touch of casting his real life daughter as Jessica worked wonderfully too, stunt/celebrity casting at its best.

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