Edinburgh Fringe 2016
This is a one man play which starts about 20 years after the events of the Merchant of Venice but brings them up to the Italy of Mussolini. Within that context Gratiano is being questioned over the untimely death of Bassiano. It looks at how we treated Shylock – obviously – and found out about Antonio – perhaps a little less obvious – as we no longer have hints but facts of people’s proclivities and how the word has changed, or not.
We have Gratiano arrive as if he has been flung out of a pub. He is drunk and his revelations about his past are given without a hint of shock. Form there we get a series of around 8 scenes with him being interviewed by the police and speaking, bottle in hand, like a disappointed warrior for whom the heat of battle was both a disappointment and the reason for his infamy.
Ross Ericson cuts an unusual figure. With a moustache that would not be out of place in a Village People tribute band he is an aggressive host. His black shirt past is revealed quickly before we are off into the world of Shakespeare and Shylock. As he is interviewed by the police, his prejudices may be laid bare but we also get an openness to his past and what happened to those who helped the Nazis in Italy following through to their final solution. It begs not just the question of what would you do in a war but also what some figures form our well known literature probably would have done had they existed in the first place.
Taking the suggested hypothesis that the Merchant of Venice can be updated the issue is should it be? This is a very interesting concept and when Ericson says at the end that this is a piece in development I am glad – not because I think it is not good enough, but because I think it is a very interesting idea that could have more legs. Taking us through potential suspects from Portia, to Antonio, Shylock and so on we get the Merchant of Venice told again but with new eyes. Shakespeare has sufficient depth that it can stand up to such scrutiny but also delving deep and developing new lines of story and narrative structures to explode and rebrand the whole thing is hardly new but the approach here is innovative enough.
Technically there was little to write home about and having the scenes rather than one whole monologue I think enhanced it.
I enjoyed it and Ericson does bring a stage presence with which it is hard to argue. Dressed like a biker on a day off he keeps us on our toes and the subtlety of his performance, combined with the script delivers much more than the sum of their parts ought.