A Merchant of Venice ★★★★★ The Playground Theatre | Nov 10 - Dec 4, 2021


A Merchant of Venice is Bill Alexander's new version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice which has been filleted with great skill and an obvious deep love of the original. Gone are several characters including Jessica and those awful Gobbos, plus there is no casket scene. What remains is the core of the story, focussing on the complex relationships between Bassanio, Antonio and Portia and, of course, Shylock. Alexander's subtlety doesn't exaggerate the homosexual attraction between Antonio (John McAndrew) and Bassanio (Alexander Knox). However, there is a telling final image of a lonely Antonio reluctantly seeming to accept that the young man must follow social convention. Peter Tate's Shylock loses his backstory making him more sympathetic and Tate is outstanding especially in the wonderful 'Do I not bleed?' speech. Antisemitism can't be avoided but this is no cartoon usurer. His plight is very touching and his punishment of being forced to renounce Judaism is cruel. Visually this production is darkly beautiful with the simple set by Sara Perks lit perfectly by Ryan Day, and Bill Alexander's direction uses the space superbly. We felt that the courtroom scene didn't quite solve the problem of the play's structure; Portia (Lena Robin) seems to take control of the situation too easily but her forcefulness creates terrific theatre. This adaptation certainly works for us and makes the play seem totally real as we were left pondering how long Portia and Bassanio's marriage might last. Indeed, throughout this superb, immaculately spoken production we are asked to explore the unfathomable, tortured nature of love.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by D.S.J.
Photo © Guy Bell, GBPhotos.

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