Carmen Paddock reviews the amazing performance of The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.
[dropcap size=small]S[/dropcap]hakespeare’s Globe opens their 2015 season with excellent productions of two popular plays: The Merchant of Venice and As You Like It. Both were seen on 23rd May 2015; the former runs until 7th June, the latter until 5th September. While both are nearly faultless, Merchant stands out as an impeccably executed realisation which hits both the comedic and tragic highs of Shakespeare’s controversial play.
[dropcap size=small]D[/dropcap]ue to Shylock’s fate – far more horrifying in the present day than it was in Shakespeare’s time – it is easy to forget that this play is technically a comedy. High spirits are not usually associated with modern productions, especially after the leaden Dustin Hoffman film adaptation. Jonathan Munby’s directorial vision, however, was both hilarious and discomfiting by turns. Before the play started the actors swarmed the stage in a wild Venetian mask, the revelry interrupted at its end to abuse two Jews. This unscripted opening set the tone for the entire show, one bold and unapologetic in merriment and grief, accompanied throughout by atmospheric live music.
The entire cast delivered strong, memorable performances, making their characters sympathetic without erasing their ugly qualities; no one in the play is a saint, but no one can be called the villain either. In an extraordinarily successful instance of art imitating life, the headliner Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones) and his daughter Phoebe stood out among the strong cast as Shylock and his daughter Jessica. The elder Pryce commanded the stage at every turn, hardened and vengeful only through the wrongs heaped on him. The younger Pryce brought a delicacy to the often under-appreciated daughter, lending her both an impetuousness and acute awareness of her choices. This was also one of the only productions which sold Lorenzo and Jessica’s relationship as a genuine love story, perhaps the most well-matched of the play’s three. Lastly, this performance’s harrowing final image – notably without the Globe’s trademark dancing – will not be easily forgotten.
by Carmen Paddock