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The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 4th May 2015 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice may have been around for more than 400 years but in today’s current climate, with anti-Semitism apparently on the increase while the liberation of Auschwitz is remembered, it is an uncomfortable play to watch – not least because Shylock the Jew is not a very nice man.

Anti-Semitists would say that, anyway. They would call him greedy, a miser who puts money before his own family - which, in fact, he does in one scene – but isn’t his love of money born out of insecurity, a safety blanket against those Christians who, like Antonio, spit in his face, call him names, and then they expect him to help them.

I’m used to seeing Shylock being portrayed as something akin to Ron Moody’s Fagin, but Jonathan Pryce’s understated performance crackles with emotion; his voice breaking up with fear as well as loathing. And yet Dominic Mafham’s Antonio, although borrowing money from Shylock to give his friend Bassanio an interest-free loan, is no better – doing his good deed for his own ends and, at the end of the play, forcing Shylock to become a Christian in a tortuous scene which almost ripped out my heart.

I went to the Globe also expecting to see an instant rapport between Pryce and his 25-year-old daughter Phoebe – playing Shylock’s daughter Jessica. Their opening scene together is very moving but, all credit to them, there is a distance between them as you would expect from a father who thinks money before daughter and a daughter who elopes with a Christian to get away from her father’s house. Phoebe has only just graduated from RADA and appeared to be a little overwhelmed at the end of one scene. However, for the most part she proves herself as her father’s daughter and it was lovely to see her so elated when, at the curtain call, the audience got to their feet, clapping and cheering, and she was almost jumping up and down with excitement.

Another uncomfortable aspect of this play is the way Portia is forced to marry the man who opens a casket which contains her picture.

But enough of the dark sides of this ‘comedy’, for under the direction of  Jonathan Munby, it really is, as are all Globe productions, an uproarious, entertaining spectacle, with costumes, music, song and dance second to none.

I especially like Scott Karim and Christopher Logan as Portia’s suitors - the theatricality of the earnest yet arrogant Prince of Morocco and the camp Prince of Arragon who rather reminded me of Barry Manilow!

The laddish antics of Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine) and his friends also produced spontaneous rounds of applause, while Stefan Adegbola makes the most of his role as Gobbo, roping in members of the audience to help him.

The Merchant of Venice will continue at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre until June 7.


Box Office: 020 7401 9919


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 3 years ago
    Thanks, Clare. Sounds like a cracking production.
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