Saturday, June 11, 2016

Blog a Day June: The Merchant of Venice

We are so fortunate in these times. Fortunate that somebody in England has has the foresight to record stage plays in London and pipe them over here to watch at the cinema. The Almeida, The National and The Globe are all doing seasons.

I've never had the pleasure of going to The Globe in London. It opened just before I left England and tickets were near impossible to find. Being able to sit in a cinema and watch some of the world's greatest actors in this forum for people like me (read Shakespeare nerds) is just wonderful.

Today, I took myself off to the Rivoli Cinema, the local Art House joint for a dose of The Merchant of Venice.

It was fabulous.

There is something most wonderful about seeing Shakespeare as it once was. The Globe has such a rich history as well. As an audience member, if you're down in the rabble, you stand for the two odd hours of the performance. As in Shakespeare's day, if you're too near the front, you might get hauled up on stage for a bit. Pay a bit more for your ticket, you can sit down and watch from the Gods.

The Merchant of Venice isn't one of my favoured plays - I know if it, have read it for uni many years ago, know of the themes, know of the characters, but I don't have the intimate knowledge of the play like I do say, Henry V, Hamlet or A Midsummer Night's Dream.

One way to judge a performance of Shakespeare - if the play falls in the "unknown" category for the audience, and if you can understand and enjoy it with ease, they've done well. This was one of  those times when they did exceptionally well. This is a fantastic performance.

Jonathan Pryce's Shylock was beautifully understated. His own daughter played his daughter, Jessica on stage, and to great effect. Rachel Pickup's Portia was as funny as she was erudite. Daniel Lapaine (best known for David van Arkle in Muriel's Wedding) was also imminently watchable.

For me, what stood out most poignantly is the themes of The Merchant of Venice. The revenge of the outsider. The hatred of the non-conformists in society. The power and the pressures of faith. I found the portrayal of Shylock, the wronged and vengeful Jew incredibly powerful. At the end, where he is asked to relinquish his faith or die, he reluctantly chooses the former, you feel his pain.

400 years later, we're still asking people to do the same.

If you can catch this performance, especially if you're a bit of a Shakespeare nit like me, you won't regret it.

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