The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is perhaps one of the less frequently performed Shakespeare plays, mostly because of the obvious anti-semitic feeling. This production is set in Venice, but in 1938, and is set alongside anti-Jewish policies in Mussolini’s Italy, the visit of Hitler to Italy and the looming shadow of the Second World War. Played in the beautiful outdoor New Fortune Theatre, which mimics the dimensions of the 1600 Fortune Theatre, on a warm Meditteranean-like evening, it is the perfect setting for some good Shakespearean Theatre.
Lucy Eyre is an intelligent and thoughtful director, and she has chosen a cast that are strong and effective, many of whom might be termed Shakespeare Specialists. Leading the cast are Barry Park, as the complex, likeable but flawed, Antonio, an excellent rival to the conniving but very sympathetic Judd Millner as Shylock - in a very strong performance. Catalyst character Bassanio is given Latin charm and lovely depth by (a largely unrecognisable) Thomas Dimmick in an impressive Shakespearean debut.
Particularly impressive are Grace Edwards, as a very clever and admirable Portia and Melissa Merchant as her maid and companion Nerissa. Lovely comedic work from this pair, with expertly layered performances. The other women, especially Abbey McCaughan’s beautifully poignant Jessica, and Solange Burns’ - in a fascinating interpretation of Launcelot, also deliver strong performances.
Other standouts include Steven Hounsome’s earnest and genuine Lorenzo, Eddie Stowers’ delightfully obnoxious Prince of Arragon, and Neale Paterson’s excellent doubling of Old Gobbo and The Duke. Strong support from Patrick Downes as Salarino, Malek Domkoc - a stunning Prince of Morocco, Sarah Thillagaratnam, dancers and members of the entourage.
Gary Wetherilt’s set design complements the venue well, and Mark Nicholson’s lighting is impressive in a temporary rig. Costumes, by Merri Ford, are thoughtfully created, are true to the era and are instrumental in setting the scene.
A must-see for Shakespeare lovers, but Grads’ The Merchant of Venice is a great choice for anyone who loves intelligent, thought-provoking theatre. The lovely setting is a great bonus.