The Merchant of Venice
Director: Polly Findlay
Writer: William Shakespeare
Cast: Patsy Ferran, Makram J. Khoury, James Corrigan, Scarlett Brookes, Nadia Albina, Jamie Ballard, Owen Findlay, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Brian Protheroe, Jay Saighal
Seen on: 22.7.2015
It is time for Bassanio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) to get married and he has his eyes set on Portia (Patsy Ferran). But he needs funds for the courtship, since he’s pretty much broke. So he asks his lover Antonio (Jamie Ballard) for a loan. But Antonio has all his money invested and bound in three trade ships. So they decide to ask Shylock (Makram J. Khoury) for a loan on Antonio’s bond instead, despite the animosity between Shylock and Antonio, built on Antonio’s antisemitism. Shylock is hesitant to help, but finally agrees to a deal under the condition that should the money not be paid back in time, he’d get a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Literally.
The Merchant of Venice is still an aweful play and no excellent cast and interpretation will ever change that. This one is a case in point.
I was aware of the raging antisemitism in the play from watching the movie many, many years ago. I thought that maybe I had missed some subtleties since people are still discussing whether or not the play is antisemitic or not. And I can kind of see that you could make this play into something that doesn’t treat what happens to Shylock as utter fairness, if you try super-extra hard, but personally I’m 100% certain that it was meant to be antisemitic when Shakespeare wrote it.
In any case, Findlay and her team try super-extra hard to make Shylock a sympathetic character (Khoury is good, but I am intensely uncomfortable with having a Palestinian actor play a Jewish character, I have to admit, especially one as questionable as Shylock). But as soon as Shylock becomes a sympathetic character (and to me, he always was), the play and its ending become utter shit: The characters are privileged assholes without any empathy who play with human lives just for the hell of it. The ending is unsatisfying and hollow, the cleverness of abusers letting them get away with everything. Why would I want to watch that?
The cast was really good, at least. I really enjoy Patsy Ferran for one, but I also really loved the diversity in the casting in general (though it does make the casting of a Palestinian as a Jew even more galling). Speaking of diversity: thank you, too, for making Antonio and Bassanio lovers, no implicity about it.
But the rest of the production wasn’t really my thing – especially that shiny golden stage that was just boring, when it wasn’t distracting. But then again, it wasn’t distracting enough to keep my mind off the antisemitism – which may have been their goal.