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FringeReview UK 2016

The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare's Globe

Genre: Classical and Shakespeare, Comedic, Drama, Mainstream Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Shakespeare's Globe, Southwark


Low Down

Reviving his Merchant of Venice with many of the original cast Director Jonathan Munby brings one of the richest, most intelligent Globe productions of recent years. Mike Britton twists the usual Globe design values, enriched with Jewish symbolism, stark with Christian ones. Jules Maxwell provides music of atmospheric, finally devastating appositeness.


Director Jonathan Munby revives his Merchant of Venice with many of the original cast. Mike Britton twists the usual Globe design, enriched with Jewish symbolism, stark with Christian ones. Jules Maxwell provides music of atmospheric, finally devastating appositeness.


This outstandingly layered production seethes with Antonio’s and Shylock’s polar hatred. At the end of Judgement they’re both broken. Jonathan Pryce’s Shylock details as much hatred as Antonio (Dominic Mafham exhaling melancholy) and Venetian anti-Semites direct in spittle. They knock out Shylock‘s book; David Sturzaker’s bumptious Gratiano swipes off his red cap that Shylock’s not permitted to retrieve. He also more delicately holds back Jessica from comforting Shylock. This could be recognition that both will suddenly recognize each other in a fundamental way and undo baptisms. But it might be that even Gratiano now permits the Christianised Shylock his own grief. Pryce’s hatred here has the terrible oxygen and demonstrable justice in which to breathe. Flinches of calculation and reflection let us see that Pryce’s Shylock possesses an archaeological archival relationship with what he precariously possesses. When material items are taken they’re literally his memories, of his wife Leah, of Jessica, shuddering triumphs and disasters.


A Yiddish row between Shylock and Pryce’s real-life daughter (Phoebe Pryce’s spirited Rebecca) underscores Jewish dignity. Though would this Rebecca give her mother’s turquoise away? Pryce herself seems to awake further to herself at intervals: sexually, as a woman fully alive to conflict and badinage, then as a daughter, in a reverse chronology of the norm, as she realizes what’s taken from her as well as given.


Dan Fredenburgh’s chipper Bassanio fecklessly ensnares Antonio – borrowing to woo Antonio’s rival. One subtext not often commented on is the paternal as well as sexual interchange. Bassanio’s precariously redeemed by affections split between friend and betrothed. The gay subtext underplayed (Bassanio flinches from Antonio’s embrace), we’re stripped to the tragedy underpinning the Antonio/Shylock apotheosis, subconsciously orchestrated by them as if everything’s served as pretext. Revenge brings other whirligigs.


There’s a finely-turned brightness from Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s Nerissa, whose gestures sexual confidences and pert looks to her mistress sets off Rachel Pickup’s Portia. Pickup is both sage and playful, sexy enough to know how to insinuate desire but above all a thinking, rather than calculating Portia who knows she must think in order to enjoy her feelings. Girlish enough to enjoy a double-act with Nerissa, she’s clearly honing the hostess charm that allows Antonio room to feel his loss, and acceptance of Bassanio’s slightly spectral sexuality, in a future lightly but tightly reined one predicts.


Stefan Adegbola’s Launcelot Gobbo is perhaps the other stand-out, a beautifully orchestrated raucuous battle between angels and gold, choices of cupidity and survival.


Antonio’s anti-Semitism has never quite been explored, Mafham however fleshes the melancholic roots which furnish something to vent fury over. This production never allows us to forget two men have died to themselves here. Rich clothing and ritual strand a brisk funereal pace counterpointing the joy of the newlyweds. Munby doesn’t wish to overlay the Bassanio/Portia or indeed nerissa union with darkness. That would be to darken the play beyond the sparkles of happiness is genuinely possesses. Instead he lets us see the axis of outfall.


The spit’s collected. Instead of the Almeida’s postlude – a desolate Portia realizing her husband’s sexuality – a Hebrew lament from Jessica preludes a trough of water through a trap door: Shylock led to a baptismal ladelling, cast chanting in Church attire, as if soused in spit. He exits upright, traumatised by his apostasty. This, replacing the ubiquitous Globe dance-off underpins his tragedy. He’s a dead man walking.