Heads Up: The Merchant of Venice

Happy birthday, RSC – and here's your pound of flash
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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about?

Big-name highlight of the Royal Shakespeare Company's summer season and 50th birthday celebrations.

Elevator Pitch

RSC gets its pound of flash.

Prime Movers

Rupert Goold, the celebrated artistic director of Headlong Theatre (Enron; Earthquakes in London) resumes his role as RSC associate director, following the lauded Romeo and Juliet which opened 2010's London season.

The Stars

Patrick Stewart returns to the RSC for the first time since playing Claudius to David Tennant's Hamlet in 2008, to take on Shylock. Susannah Fielding is Portia, and Antonio is played by Scott Handy, who acted alongside Stewart in another Goold Shakespeare, 2007's much frothed over Macbeth.

The Early Buzz

The Daily Mail points out that Stewart "has a fondness for Shylock, having played him twice before: in 1965 at the Bristol Old Vic and in 1978 for the RSC ... He has performed a one-man show titled Shylock: Shakespeare's Alien, where he argued the case for 'one of the most commonly reviled characters in Shakespeare'." A Shakespeare Birthplace Trust blog suggests that "a Jewish audience can find it as difficult to watch The Merchant of Venice as women do The Taming of the Shrew". But they also include a link to a clip of Playing Shakespeare (1984), where Stewart suggests that "'the alleged anti-Semitism of the play ... is a distraction. But I also believe that the 'Jewishness' which is so often emphasised in The Merchant is equally a distraction ... Shylock is essentially an alien, an outsider."

Insider Knowledge

Stewart played William Shakespeare himself recently, albeit in statue form, in the animated film Gnomeo and Juliet.

It's great that...

On 30 April Stewart will receive the Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Prize in Stratford, awarded annually "for outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment" of Shakespeare's work.

It's a shame that...

A mooted film version of Merchant, starring and produced by Stewart, seems to have stalled – partly due, perhaps, to the big-screen version with Al Pacino.

Hit Potential

Given the already-proven combination of Goold's directing talents with Stewart's acting ability, this should be a hit.

The Details

The Merchant of Venice is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (rsc.org.uk), 13 May to 26 September.