The last bankside Merchant was in 1998, and was directed by Richard Olivier, with a particular bent towards multiculturalism (see Reviews, 4 June 1998). This well-known but controversial Shakespeare piece sees wealthy heiress Portia set potential suitors a challenge. As part of the efforts to win her over, Antonio borrows from the moneylender Shylock, who demands a pound of flesh should Antonio default on the loan.
Globe regular John McEnery plays the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, to Dale Rapley’s Antonio. Kirsty Besterman was elevated to the female lead, Portia, and Philip Cumbus took on Bassanio. Designs are by Liz Cooke, with music composed by Adrian Lee.
Response was mostly very positive, though the handling of race and religion was criticized by some as engendering unnecessary and insensitive laughter. The nature of the audience, however, was equally blamed for this reaction. Whilst there are “passages of excruciating tedium”, there are enough fresh ideas brought to this problem play by its deliberately convention-exploring approach to make it “glitter divertingly” and receive an interested nod from some. It was felt elsewhere that the production was “crudely reductionist”, and relied too much on laughter and clowning and ignored both the sympathetic side of Shylock, and the complexities of certain scenes. The reaction was mixed as to whether the style enhanced previously-neglected nuances, or simply showed a “lack of vigour”.
- by Stuart Denison