The Merchant of Venice, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-avon
Tuesday 15 April 2008
It's not the word that instinctively comes to mind but, technically, The Merchant of Venice is a comedy. Tim Carroll's version for the Royal Shakespeare Company reminds us that the play is about three loving couples, that it contains a lot of romantic mischief, and that it ends happily – at least, for everyone nice.
Georgina Rich's Portia, though rather drab, gets plenty of laughs as she slags off her suitors, and even more in the triumphantly comic final scene, when she and her maid (a droll Amanda Hadingue) pretend to have cuckolded their errant husbands. William Beck, by turning Launcelot Gobbo into a young Nicky Henson with a touch of Boris Johnson, has made that usually unbearable clown a highly enjoyable one.
Yet there is that bit of unpleasantness about a business deal gone wrong. Carroll minimises it by giving us, in Angus Wright, a Shylock who, in this modern-dress production, is not just a dark suit but an empty one. Bland and cool, he keeps a casual hand in his pocket during most of the "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech – a gesture of indifference favoured by most of the men in this youthful cast. This Shylock is only mildly annoyed when his daughter elopes with a Christian, when he prepares to drive his knife into Antonio's breast, and when the Duke of Venice decrees that he be stripped of his wealth and religion. Nor is he remotely Jewish.
The most passionate character is the Gratiano of John Paul Connolly. Hearty in fellowship, he cries, with equal heartiness, for a rope round the neck of Shylock. A bit more emphasis in this vein could have made the play a damning judgement on its jolly chaps and clever girls but, as it is, we are asked to side with the guests at the genial country-house party in Belmont.
Laura Hopkins's design contributes to the rootless, weightless mood by setting the casket scenes in a fantasy cavern. Carroll's larky manner has its merits, but what price a Merchant without Shylock? The Jew's hand may be stayed, but this director has taken a knife to the play's beating, bleeding heart.
In rep to 27 September (0844 800 1110; www.rsc.org.uk)
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 2 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 3 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 4 Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
- 5 Refugee crisis: Aylan's life was full of fear - in death, he is part of 'humanity washed ashore'
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
First Look at Bryan Cranston transformed into LBJ for HBO’s ‘All the Way’ film
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
This little boy loves books so much that he cries when his mother stops reading to him
Prog rock finally comes of age with launch of the first Official Progressive Chart
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up