Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Theatre Review: The Merchant of Venice

I’d have it out with Mr Shakespeare, were he alive and were I a lot braver, because it’s nothing but his plot development that affected the precision of SutCo’s production of the Merchant of Venice.

There’s a gross assumption that amateur Shakespeare plays are terrible and an even grosser one that says students cannot do the Bard justice. Though I admit I went in with my own set of predictions along with my brown paper bag of pick ‘n’ mix, I am happy to say that I was very wrong.

The cast have been working together for a couple of months now and in this time have bonded in a way that is beautifully apparent in the way in which they move around and perform towards one another.

There is a healthy dose of Shakespearian theatricality, and even slapstick: especially in the character of Launcelot Gobbo who strides on stage, muttering in the perfect jester-like manner. His appearance, as was intended, immediately acquires laughs. 

Chuckles – and for those more acquainted with Jacobean language, great big belly laughs - are otherwise drawn from the flamboyancy of the butler, the salacious puns that are synonymous with Shakespeare, and the perfectly placed exasperation of Portia, whose haughty and likeable demeanour adds feminist student panache to a clearly misogynist play.

As for the serious stuff, this is a production that leans heavily on the shocking, tragic elements of what was first named a comedy. I won’t give anything away but I will say that the slab of meat that appears on all those fantastic posters that appear around the Union takes on a much more chilling tone when a seemingly random prop becomes the “pound of flesh” demanded of a main protagonist.

The play is of course about the hatred that bubbles between the Jews and the Christians, and the racism is as uncomfortable as you’d expect from a play composed in the sixteenth century and chosen to be set in an Italy poised on the brink of WWII. 

It’s sneering, visceral, abject racism that is executed with the real feeling of hatred one would expect. And yet, as you would also expect from a room full of students, there is a general feeling of refusal to obey the anti-semitic motive of Shakespeare’s.

In fact, the stand out of the show is in fact Shylock (Daniel Turner), the spurned, spat upon and yet individually psychotic Jew who adopts both a heavy limp and a heavy accent without once falling into the comical trap he could have easily tripped into. He is an actor who you watch without thinking about his acting. 

There is something completely enticing about his presence on stage, and the moral dilemma we are faced as a modern day audience is played out perfectly by a Shylock who is here abused and lying bereft upon the floor, and here brandishing a knife at the audience in possessed sadism.

I’m obviously suggesting you go and see the play. It’s on every night until Saturday and though you should go in with a thick skin that will deflect the racist cat calls and misogynist undertones (thanks for those, Mr Shakespeare), you shouldn’t sit down how I did because contrary to popular, pretentious opinion, amateur Shakespeare can be brilliant.

By Jess Atkinson

We LOVED their trailer...

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