The Merchant of Venice Revisited

Shakespeare's Globe London Image Not My Own

Shakespeare’s Globe London Image Not My Own

The Globe’s season has started and therefore I have already indulged in the first of 2 trips planned this season. My usual rule is that I have to see 1 new play per year however I am starting to run out of plays I have not seen. This years unseen play will be Richard II but my ticket is not until August so I decided to indulge in seeing my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays The Merchant of Venice to make the wait until August easier to bear.

So let me tell you now why this is one of the best things that I have ever done. Why is The Merchant of Venice my favourite of the many plays written by the bard? Were do I start? The setting, the characters, the plot and sub plots, the humour and some of the best quotes from Shakespeare. Now I am not the type of person to reread books, although I do rewatch favourite films they are a comfort and watched sparingly rather than over watched. So I was a little unsure what to expect from seeing this play again in the same theatre. I can say here and now that it was greatly different that the production I saw at the Globe in 2007.

Armed with the necessary cushion – the wooden seats are far to hard for my bottom these days, okay I admit it I have always been a softie – snacks and programme, I already noted as I sat down that there were differences from 8 years previously. Firstly there was no wooden bridge in the groundlings pit. Stage has changes as well, the front pillars were painted dark rather than the usual marbled effect and in the centre of the stage was a small white platform. It was stage set background that impressed me the most. Anyone who knows Venice will see the wooden carved background as very Venetian in feel and the tide water mark at the bottom was the finishing touch.

One of the highlights of globe production for me is the end when the cast gig and dance before the final bow and curtain call however in this production this treat starts the play as the last of the audience trickle in. The reason for this is very apparent at the end of the play. Spoiler is you have not read seen or know The Merchant of Venice – at the end of the play at the Christian conversion of Shylock is very moving and intense it would have taken away from the drama and intensity if they cast had danced after this also not to mention that many of the cast were dressed in religious regalia and it would have been odd seeing them gig and dance like that.

Stand out performances for me were from Stefan Adegbola as Lancelot, highly amusing performance with great energy, Christopher Logan as an amazingly camp and extravagant Prince of Aragon – I actually hurt from laughing – and the father and daughter both on stage and in real life of Jonathan Pryce and Phoebe Pryce as Shylock and Jessica. Both gave strong and powerfully passionate performances as key characters in this play.

The costumes were stunning this year dare I say that they may have been new for this production. The damask on the female 16th century dresses was stunning but the costume that impressed me the most was that of the Doge of Venice in the court scenes, the costume especially the Camauro, the cap worn by the Doge’s of Venice. The costume could have come straight out of a picture by Titian.

I am also happy to report that this years volunteers were much nicer and friendlier than last years unpleasant experience and hope that will continue when I revisit in August.

Do I have anything to nit pick at if the fact that the program calls the Doge as Duke of Venice can be a nit pick then there is one and the only thing that would have made it better would have been if there were ice cream water sellers floating about during the interval as not all f us fancy the mayhem and queues in the yard during the interval. Speaking of which I recommend using the facilities before the play starts I jigged in my seat for the last 15 minutes and virtually ran to the ladies post play but that is bad planning on my part.

The script and location may have been the same but cast, staging and direction were all new and I am so pleased that I choose to revisit my favourite play again. I am looking forward to seeing Richard II in August…. Dickie you have a lot to live up to!

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