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A CurtainUp London Review
The Merchant of Venice at the Globe
Without being sniffy about the Globe crowd, they are there for the experience, to have a good time and I suspect that even the blinding of Gloucester would provoke mirth and merriment. And as London attractions go, the Globe is a must see. But this lighthearted approach is in danger of trivialising the more serious aspects of the play and turning The Merchant of Venice into a comedy.
The production has not been without difficulties as their Portia withdrew a few days before the press were due to see it. However her replacement, Kirsty Besterman, has made the role her own and we had no indication that she was anything except first choice. Her first scene has a parade of flesh creeping suitors with ridiculous, lewd gestures, pelvic thrusts and the like, which they think are sexually attractive but which have the audience recoiling in distaste. There are one or two modern touches like this: including Bassanio’s (Philip Cumbus) football player’s self congratulatory gesture to the crowd on winning the hand of the heiress Portia as if he had just scored the winning goal. This serves to underline the shallowness of Bassanio’s suit, to find a bride who can solve his financial problems.
Shylock (John McEnery) seems exhausted even at the start of the play before the loss of his daughter and his ducats, world weary of the treatment meted out to him. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the play written from Shylock’s point of view? Dale Rapley’s Antonio seems also morose from the beginning and his performance for me stressed the legal argument about why the law of Venice should not be undermined, even to give way to natural justice, so Shylock should have his bond. Antonio is prepared to die. It is a discussion of the rights of the individual as opposed to the rights of the state, given an audience interested in the finer points of law. The casket scene passes off well with Aragon (Philip Bird) lisping and Morocco (Christopher Obi) fearfully over the top and showing off his magnificent body. The crowd greatly enjoyed the ring muddle with Bassanio and Gratiano (Mark Rice-Oxley) giving away the rings gifted by Portia and Nerissa (Jennifer Kidd) and then having to explain their conduct.
It is not easy directing in the Globe’s space with its enormous pillars which can block the action. For instance on the night I saw it, I never even had a glimpse of the Silver Casket. As far as I was concerned there were just two, Gold and Lead. So be prepared to miss some of the visual action and just listen. And listening is where this production comes into its own with clear diction and being heard from every section of the crowd. Of course there are Stuart musical instruments to play authentic music and the whole evening ends with a dance and volumes of applause.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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