By setting Shakespeare’s most controversial play in the nineteen twenties just before the Wall Street Crash director Pete Meakin finds strong parallels with the economic uncertainties of the present day. Here are the merchant class revelling in a hedonistic lifestyle fuelled by their buoyant business dealings. But all comes to grief as their fortunes flounder on an unfortunate tide and the wealthy Antonio finds himself adrift and in debt to his banker Shylock who demands his pound of flesh.
The jury is out on whether or not The Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic and unplayable in a modern world but it does make uncomfortable viewing to a twenty-first century audience. We want our sympathies to be with Paul Rider’s much-maligned but economically essential Shylock but find it difficult when he insists on extracting Antonio’s contractual obligation to the full.
Paul’s powerful presence dominates during every moment he is on stage but it is Camilla Aerfwedson’s Portia who draws the eye throughout, although she is at her weakest in the courtroom scene where she is a little too diffident to be convincing in the weighty role of judge advocate.
While the competent cast all give a good account of themselves it is worth singling out Peter Caulfield’s lively and colourful Gratiano for delivering dividends in this enjoyable production.