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Friday, 20 May 2011

Luke Harris reviews The Merchant of Venice

Directed by Rupert Goold
Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 18th May, 2011

Rupert Goold is known for his radical, conceptual directorial style. For the RSC's new production of 'The Merchant of Venice' he transports the world of Venice to the city of gambling, Las Vegas.

An entertaining and energetic pre-show establishes the themes of American culture and the atmosphere of a money orientated society. The glamorous and exuberant set, designed by Tom Scutt, involves gold plated staircases, TV screens and fruit machines. Rick Fisher's fantastic lighting design is suitably extravagant and music by Adam Cork supports the seamless scene transitions, often including Elvis Presley. Never could I imagine the King of Rock'n'Roll, the Glee hit 'Don't Stop Believin' and Duck Sauce's electronic dance track all featuring in a Shakespearean production.
Portia and Nerissa, played brilliantly by Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree, are MTV, Paris Hilton-like celebrities who host a game show to find a fitting suitor. It's crass and tacky but captures the comedic side to the play which is often ignored. Caroline Martin's Jessica is geeky and awkward, making something out of a slightly overlooked role. Patrick Stewart's Shylock is just as impressive as one would expect from a quality Shakespearean actor . His portrayal as a  humane yet narrow-minded Shylock is captivating and his Jewish heritage deepens and develops through all of his five scenes climaxing in an absorbing court scene which keeps you hanging off every word. Even though I know the story, the energy and atmosphere produced on-stage was rightfully intense and absorbing.

Goold's cinematic, story-telling aesthetic makes you feel like you are watching a blockbuster film, Ocean's Eleven style. His bold visual flair and his brave concept choices will split audiences, especially a traditionally reserved Stratford audience. Some will argue that his daring conceptual style diminishes the integrity of Shakespeare's themes, characters and story. But the world Goold and the ensemble create works, embracing the spectacle of the glitz and glamour of modern celebrity culture. There are imaginative moments throughout including a car ride and an elevator scene. Goold's genius reminds us all why he is one of the foremost British directors of our age as well as strong candidate to takeover the National or RSC in the future.

It is a thoroughly entertaining production that once again showcases the capabilities of the new thrust stage. Whether it will be a critical success is the big question, however I do believe it will encourage a new, younger audience to the RSC and that is why Goold is such a valuable asset to the company. Get a ticket and enjoy the magic!

Luke Harris, age 22

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