The Merchant of Venice, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-avon

3.00

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)

Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams in True Detective season 2

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Off the wall: the cast of ‘Life in Squares’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Books And it is whizzpopping!

Arts and Entertainment
Bono throws water at the crowd while the Edge watches as they perform in the band's first concert of their new world tour in Vancouver

MusicThey're running their own restaurants

Voices
The main entrance to the BBC headquarters in London
TV & Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash
    I would never quit Labour, says Liz Kendall

    I would never quit party, says Liz Kendall

    Latest on the Labour leadership contest
    Froome seals second Tour de France victory

    Never mind Pinot, it’s bubbly for Froome

    Second Tour de France victory all but sealed
    Oh really? How the 'lowest form of wit' makes people brighter and more creative

    The uses of sarcasm

    'Lowest form of wit' actually makes people brighter and more creative
    A magazine editor with no vanity, and lots of flair

    No vanity, but lots of flair

    A tribute to the magazine editor Ingrid Sischy
    Foraging: How the British rediscovered their taste for chasing after wild food

    In praise of foraging

    How the British rediscovered their taste for wild food