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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Handy’

This radical resetting of Shakespeare’s play started out in Stratford 3.5 years ago and has now travelled 100 miles south east to get a second showing in its director Rupert Goold’s new home in Islington. It’s a much smaller venue, which makes it less grand and more intimate, but designer Tom Scutt has redesigned it to fit the new space well and I feel very much the same as I did first time round (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-merchant-of-venice-rsc-stratford).

The Almeida’s former joint AD, Ian McDiarmid, gives a more assertively defiant, more Jewish and ultimately more tragic Shylock than Patrick Stewart in a great role take-over. I was more positive this time round about Scott Handy’s introspective Antonio, because the intimacy of the space brought out the subtlety of his performance. The new Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) and Gratiano (Anthony Welsh) both give equally fine interpretations as their predecessors. Staging the battle for Portia’s hand as reality show Destiny brings the comedy that in turn heightens the tension and Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree now both steal the show as Portia and Nerissa, with a simply terrific turn again from Jamie Beamish’s Elvis impersonating Lancelot Gobbo.

I overheard an American audience member saying he thought it was sending up American culture. There’s some truth in that, but more important that the Las Vegas setting provides a modern context and cohesion that gives the play an ongoing relevance and accessibility, particularly good for introducing and enthusing young audiences I’d say. Good to see it again.

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Modern re-setting of Shakespeare is a bit hit-and-miss, though director Rupert Gould has a better hit rate than most; his Stalinist Macbeth is probably the best production of that play I’ve ever seen. So it’s good to report another hit with what is probably his most risky re-setting, in a very contemporary Las Vegas!

Apart from modern dress, he hasn’t really tampered with Antonio and Shylock. Portia and her friend Nerissa, however, are straight out of Legally Blonde, Launcelot Gobbo is an Elvis impersonator (and a good one too!), the Prince of Morocco a big black boxer, the Duke of Venice becomes a mafia godfather, the Prince of Aragon a Spanish stereotype and Gratiano a small time gangster! We’re in a casino, there are a couple of showgirls with feather headdresses and those who claim Portia and her fortune do so in full TV game show tradition. We get what seems to be Elvis’ entire back catalogue, with an unseen big band at the back of the stage.

Of course, it heightens the comedy but the surprise is that it increases the impact of the drama too. The scene where Shylock’s claim is played out has never been more tense and even though you know exactly what’s going to happen, you wince as the knife touches the flesh. The anti-semiticism also seemed heightened, with the audience audibly shocked when Gratiano spits on Shylock as he leaves dejected. This really was staging that served the play.

Patrick Stewart is a great Shylock, but its Susannah Fielding who steals the show as Portia, both in blonde wig and high heels and posing as the male lawyer. I liked Richard Riddell’s Bassanio, but felt Scott Handy as Antonio was a bit too subdued and introspective. There are great supporting performances from Jamie Beamish as Launcelot, Howard Charles as Gratiano and Emily Plumtree as Nerissa.

This was my first visit to the new RST, which is really a large Swan; almost as much closeness as next door and a lot more than before. If this staging was anything to go by, it is a space where you can stage spectacular scenes and intimate conversations. I loved both the show and the space.

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