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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
at Shakespeare's Globe

MERCY, MERCY, MERCY
By Michael Leech

  John McEnery and Pippa Nixon/Ph: John Tramper

In his own lifetime, William Shakespeare produced views on almost everything in 37 plays and countless poems and sonnets. The Merchant of Venice is famed for his portrait of Shylock, the Jew of the title. In it we see, reflected, among a wealthy, young group of well-off Venetians, racial attitudes the playwright would have known well. One still hopes when seeing this great play it will appear as an historical document, but these attitudes still reverberate and Shylock, merchant and money lender, remains a vitally compelling, complex character. It is why actors want to do it-the most celebrated portrayal in modern times being that of Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre. Memorable indeed: that sly, skulking and supremely subtle version still lingers.

In this new production in the open air, open stage of the Globe's current summer season the play holds the audience, even though inevitably we start with the frenetic theatrical trimmings now eternally attached to every show presented here.Reminds you that this theatre is a 'must see' with visitors from around the globe. A great tourist lure-an authentic rendering of the famous Tudor theatre ( thought supposedly half the size of the original). The bust in the foyer reminds that if it were not for Sam Wanamaker, the American founder and 'onlie begetter' of this grand reconstruction, no Englishman would have dared attempt it.

Those going to the Globe for the first time should try standing in the pit: here you're up close and personal with all the action going on. After about ten minutes of inevitable capering and crowd-pleasing, the large company finally gets down to the play.

The moment it begins the atmosphere changes: on comes a compelling quiet. The actors are here, Shakespeare waves his magic staff. Once more the scorned Merchant makes a loan to Bassanio, which Antonio guarantees, the bond being a bloody one, a pound of flesh if the loan is not made good. The story is satisfyingly familiar. Once more various love affairs proceed: the great lady Portia is wooed for her face and fortune with the opening of three mysterious caskets. Again Shylock persists with his bond-and suffers the consequences.

In a neat, taut production by Rebecca Gatward, the company is well chosen (except Craig Gazey as Gobbo, alas not a natural clown). This reviewer didn't get a chance to see the original Portia, but her replacement Kirsty Besterman did a remarkably good cool character study. Of the men, Nicholas Shaw as Lorenzo, in love with the luscious Jessica( Shylock's daughter) of Pippa Nixon, is a face to look for.

In the critical role of Shylock, John McEnery does a secure, impressive characterization without actually giving really touching aspects, which is a pity. The production holds the attention well though. Programs are filled with information, yet John Julius Norwich, illuminating Venice and commenting on Otway's Venice Preserv'd, should know better than to presume Shakespeare didn't know Venice- who knows where the poet was until he pops up publicly at the age of 29?

 


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