Writer: William Shakespeare
Composer/Musical Director: Alex Silverman
Director: Natalie Abrahami
Reviewer: Ali Lantukh
The Public Reviews Rating:
Shakespeare’s tragicomedy/problem play ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is lovingly recreated by Creation Theatre in Oxford with the emphasis on the comic – an effervescent little show with an engaging and talented cast, complete with trombones, jazz ditties, and musical smoking pipes.
Designed to be performed at the Saïd Rooftop Ampitheatre above Oxford’s dreaming spires, we attended a special Sunday brunch showing, with bacon butties, Danish pastries and coffee served shortly before the show. A great way to spend a Sunday morning, but unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, the heavens opened and we were ushered inside to see the performance in the Saïd Business School’s Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre. Whilst I was disappointed not to see the performance in the ampitheatre, I was pleasantly surprised at the way the play and players adapted to and used the new space – the possibility of being moved indoors really shouldn’t put theatre-goers off. Without much to speak of in terms of set or props, Creation Theatre conjured up a taste of 1930s Venice with all the creativity that their name implies. Port-side scenes, travel by gondola, romantic picnics in mansion grounds were concocted with wit and flourish. The inclusion of music, song and dance reminiscent of the era gave the production extra oomph and flow, as the audience was propelled from one scene to the next and absorbed in the action.
Stand-out performances came from Leila Crerar as Portia, and James Wooldridge as Bassanio. Jonathan Oliver’s Shylock managed to be sinister, moving and sympathetic, where scenes in which Shylock suffers from anti-Semitic abuse jar acutely with the heightened comic moments. The scene in which Portia’s suitors bid for her hand was particularly entertaining, and the audience lapped it up.
And whilst this production of the Merchant of Venice is witty and fizzy, and whilst the play is seemingly wrapped up neatly and finishes with a happy every after, the ambivalent aspects of the play are not overlooked. Shylock is menacing and malevolent, but his contemporaries, and the ‘heroes’ of the play, act towards him in a deeply disturbing way; meanwhile, Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, never manages to shake off the stigma attached to being Jewish in Venetian society. Portia makes her famous speech extolling Shylock to act mercifully, and yet she lacks any mercy in her actions towards him. Such nuances are not flattened out in the comedy of the production, provoking thought, and faithfully upholding the spirit of the text.
All in all, this was a brilliant show, produced by an innovative company, with special showings for families, brunch shows, and 1930s fancy dress performances adding to the fun. Running until 1st September, there’s plenty of time to book tickets and get down to the ampitheatre – this is a real treat!
Runs until: 1 September