THEATRE / Don't bank on it: Paul Taylor on David Thacker's RSC staging of The Merchant of Venice at the Barbican, London

For merchant-banking yuppies, a trip to David Thacker's Merchant of Venice (now transferred to the Barbican) will amount to something of a busman's holiday. Set on a split-level, tubular office complex that might have been dreamt up by Richard Rogers, it relocates the play in the cut- throat, computer-flashing world of modern high finance.

This creates as many problems as opportunities. After all, an aversion to money-lending is not exactly rife in such a milieu: to see young, sharp- suited Christian bankers decrying Shylock for the practice of usury is thus a little like imagining a school of piranhas puffing their gills out in holier-than-thou huffiness at the eating habits of a shark.

Thacker's aim, evidently, is to blur divisions, to indicate how the prosperity of the Christians must also be based on business dealings that wouldn't bear much scrutiny. This certainly results in a persuasively rethought conception of Shylock. Excellently played by David Calder, he comes across here as a largely assimilated Jew who at first goes into his shtik and shrugs only as a little self-parodic turn, and who later suggests the pound of flesh forfeit almost as a fanciful joke. It's when the Christians connive in the defection of his daughter that he turns ugly.

The high-finance setting is not nearly as flattering to Clifford Rose's Antonio, though; in this world, a man who lends out money gratis would be offered psychiatric treatment, not praise and support.

Seeing this production a second time, I was struck less by its interpretative gains and losses than by its inertness. Neither the banking bastion of Venice nor the more timeless world of Belmont come properly alive. In the former, people communicate by mobile phone, computer terminals flash, there's a loutish, yuppie wine bar - and it all remains stubbornly dead.

When Trevor Nunn updated Timon of Athens, another play that meditates on the discrepancies between the transactions of finance and the transactions of friendship, the shift to the milieu of the modern plutocrat afforded similarly thought-provoking distortions. But, in creating its environments, Thacker's production doesn't begin to match the texture, energy or density of the way Nunn recreated Timon's patronage-world in contemporary terms, a place where acts of bounty were turned into media-opportunities, and where intimacy was restricted to being sucked up to by fickle, free-booting hangers-on. At times, Thacker's transpositions make no sense at all. Would the bartender in a yuppie watering hole really be the one dispensing sage advice about Antonio along with the champagne?

Apart from Calder's Shylock, the great plus-points of the production are, first, Penny Downie, who, without being at all like Katharine Hepburn, gives you, as Portia, a similar sense of wit and breeding. Significantly, in the court scene, the vindictive tenacity with which she eventually pursues Shylock seems to catch her off balance, as if springing from some hidden source it momentarily fazes her to recognise. The second boon is Christopher Luscombe, who, as Launcelot Gobbo, takes one of Shakespeare's more wearisome clown-figures and, by establishing a lovely, faintly Frankie Howerd-like rapport with the audience, turns him into a comic delight.

Booking: 071-638 8891

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own