An excavation of the faults in human nature, The Merchant of Venice tells the infamous twisted tale of love, revenge and justice.
Bassanio, a fortuneless nobleman, requests a loan from the merchant Antonio so that he can pursue Portia, a wealthy heiress, in the hope of restoring his fortune. Antonio has all of his assets offshore in ships at sea, telling Bassanio he will use his credit to obtain a loan from the Jew, Shylock. But Shylock passionately hates Antonio and, grasping the opportunity to get revenge, agrees to the loan on the condition that he receive a pound of flesh if it isn’t repaid.
Raw in its dialogue and in the minimalism of the setting, Bell Shakespeare’s adaptation plays true to the original with nods to Shakespearean humour and emotional poignancy. The production truly modernises the classic tale by literally stripping it bare, with the actors rarely leaving the stage – even to change. For someone who usually enjoys a theatrical showcase of over-the-top sets and costumes, by the interval I’d been wooed by the show’s sparseness and was completely hooked.
Director Anne-Louise Sarks has forged a piece of theatre that is both ominously clouded by greed and wickedly funny. The strong female leads were the perfect balance of charm and wit, with Portia (Jessica Tovey) and Nerissa (Catherine Davies) dominating the stage. But it was Eugene Gilfedder playing the Duke of Venice who stole the show. A class act in his portrayal of the Duke as an arrogant suitor, his stage presence was eloquent and charismatic. It’s the unravelling relationships between characters in the play that makes this production stand out as truly engaging theatre, as they struggle with being caught in the crossroads of vengeance and love.
Bell Shakespeare has brought an age-old tale to a new demographic, telling a story which feels more relevant now than ever. Thought-provoking and intensely moving The Merchant of Venice will leave you feeling wiser about the brutality of love.
Image by Prudence Upton.