Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Merchant of Venice

We rolled down to Winchester last night in the rain to see the "Tribe Theatre" present "The Merchant of Venice" at the Theatre Royal. It was the third performance of four, but some of the cast were still having problems with their lines - reflecting the half amateur, half professional nature of the Company.

The play is said to be controversial because 'it's antisemitic'. In a PC-age, some of the opinions expressed by characters are rather shocking. However, the play is not antisemitic, it exhibits antisemitism, specifically of the Venetian middle class.

Shylock has good lines to express the racist discrimination heaped upon Jews and his personal humilations: he has ample grounds for rage. The play also differentiates between generic Jewish resentment and Shylock's personal rigidity (even if most of the characters don't). But above all, the play celebrates its female characters (Portia and her maid) who are the smartest and most proactive characters around. Great performances.

There are amusing comedy scenes, particularly some of the lamer suitors, choosing between caskets for Portia's hand. The obligatory 'clown' scenes - a staple of Elizabethan drama but not, apparently to Shakespeare's taste - are well-done but rarely amusing.

Overall, an excellent production much enhanced by atmospheric acoustic guitar between scenes. The local paper's review is here.