The Merchant of Venice
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Imogen de la Bere
19th/20th April 2007
Trestle Arts Base, St Albans
27th/28th April 2007
Queen Mother Theatre, Hitchin
5th May 2007
Barn Theatre, Welwyn Garden City
10th/11th May 2007
Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans
Not so much a play about Jewishness, more a play about money.
In The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare is fascinated by money and its power. Money drives everything in the restless, materialist world that is his Venice. Over in Belmont, where women rule, different values predominate, but even there, they are fettered by money. Suitors queue for Portia not because of her brilliance or beauty, but because of her wealth. Only Shylock, who lives by money, is capable of freeing himself from it. He demands flesh; he demands revenge.
Merchant is about justice and mercy, but also about the fundamental values by which we choose to live: money, love and honour.
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Extremely accessible Shakespeare, entertaining and highly watchable
20th April 2007
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The Bard's time honoured themes
26th April 2007
ARGUABLY the most controversial and perhaps the most complex of Shakespeare's plays, The Merchant of Venice is also one of the most entertaining.
It explores the main fundamentals that consume societies of all times - love, money and honour - and intertwined within this is revenge, justice, mercy and, controversially, anti-Semitism.
St Albans drama group OVO's version of the play at the Trestle Theatre last week was directed by Imogen de la Bere and achieved its aim of emphasising the gender divisions of the 1590s' work.
The portrayal of the simplistic romantic ideals of female Belmont, emphasised further with understated costumes, contrasts sharply with the materialist and money-fuelled, male-dominated Venice.
A purposely simplistic set, enhanced by atmospheric lighting, works well and does not distract from the true heart and meaning of the play, leaving the focus purely on the acting of a talented cast.
The mediaeval music, which is played live in the background, adds another welcome and authentic element to the performance.
Shylock, a Jew, lends Venetian merchant, Antonio, some money so that his friend, Bassanio, can travel to Portia, the object of his affections in Belmont.
Although Bassanio succeeds in gaining her love, Antonio fails to meet the repayments and Shylock demands revenge on the Christian - a pound of flesh.
Dewi Williams is outstanding as the persecuted but merciless Shylock and he does well to embody the various elements of the character who at times emerges as a victim and at others cries out as a heartless villain.
Bassanio is played by Richard Cowling with emotion, particularly in the courtroom scene with Howard Salinger, who plays the proud Antonio with precision.
They are surrounded throughout by a strong male cast, namely Gratiano who is played by Tim Robinson, along with Andy Mills, Edmund White and Matt Jeffs as Lorenzo, Salarino and Salanio respectively.
Bubbly and fun, the scenes of female Belmont couldn't fail to entertain either.
Portia is played to stirring perfection by Lisa White and her loyal maid, Nerissa, is performed with natural ease by Jo Mills. They work brilliantly together to portray a believable and enchanting friendship.
The role of Aurietta, another of the maids, is played by Sarah Passmore, who is fresh out of stage school and her hilarious renditions of the less-favoured suitors epitomises the comic - but not exploited - undercurrent of the play.
Romance is a main theme and in all cases it is developed with positive chemistry, especially in the sparkling performance of Bassanio and Portia.
This is a strong play with a faultless satellite of characters which continues OVO's fine tradition of Shakespeare.
When it returns to St Albans for performances at the Maltings Arts Theatre, it comes highly recommended.
Duke - Paul de Burton
Antonio - Howard Salinger
Bassanio - Richard Cowling
Gratiano - Tim Robinson
Lorenzo - Andy Mills
Salarino - Edmund White
Salanio - Matt Jeffs
Shylock - Dewi Williams
Jessica - Chianna-Andrea Craigen
Tubal - Andy Pinder
Launcelot - Michael Westwood
Portia - Lisa White
Nerissa - Jo Mills
Giovanna - Eleanor Weyman
Aurietta - Sarah Passmore
Singer - John McNally