The Merchant of Venice
WHO are we? A massive mirrored backdrop allows both cast and audience to take a good look at themselves in Polly Findlay’s stripped bare and stripped back production.
What is clear is that no one on this stage has any great redeeming qualities. They’re a thoroughly nasty bunch, from merchant to moneylender, and Ms Findlay’s take on Shakespeare ever-problematic play makes it hard to give a fig what happens to any of them.
It’s all very clinical, matter-of-fact, and somewhat disjointed, with almost a third of the text axed.
Set-wise, a large silver ball swings relentlessly pendulum-like from side to side across the stark stage. It becomes irritating and a distraction, matched almost by Gobbo (Tim Samuels) the clown placing endless candles on the stage at the close.
Cast-wise, the bulk sit side stage throughout in full view of the audience waiting for their moment centre stage before returning to their seat. It leaves the impression you’re watching a rehearsal.
It’s clear early on Bassanio’s (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) heart belongs to Antonio (Jamie Ballard) rather than Portia (Patsy Ferran) when the merchant slaps a big smacker right on his lips.
Makram J Khoury’s Shylock ambles around like M&S Man on a coach tour to Stratford. He may be bent on revenge and determined to get his pound of flesh, but sympathy for the broken Jew is in short supply as his world comes crashing down as the Christians turn lions.
Comedy-wise, Gobbo manages to raise a few laughs, but Brian Protheroe’s Leslie ‘Hello’ Phillips-like Aragon wooing of Portia is the genuine stand out.
There are also some pleasing short musical interludes from young choiristers performing 16th century madrigals, but not enough to save the day.
Lead may be the casket of choice, but this production is just leaden.
The Merchant of Venice runs until September 2. Visit www.rsc.org for tickets and further details.