Grist To The Mill
Looking tired, hungover and smirkingly beligerant, Ross Ericson's Gratiano sits on a stool and tells the police the long and sordid history of the rise of Italian fascism under Mussolini, and how this effected his friendship with a suspiciously killed Bassanio.
This alternates with him standing swaying in a bar, taking great pulls at a beer bottle and waxing drunkenly on the state of the city.
In reframing the events of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice to have taken place in 20th century Italy shortly before World War 2, Grist to the Mill has created a situation where they can examine the subtler aspects of class, racism and political ideology through the effect it has on a wider context.
Time has moved on, Bassanio and Gratiano have grown apart, the former having married Portia and become a political statesman, while the latter a forgotten friend, in a growingly loveless marriage.
The barriers of class and situation have separated them and, while Gratiano has grown increasingly sympathetic, Bassanio has turned on his friends, denounced Antonio as a degenerate and aided the Nazis in the transportation of the Jews to the death camps. Indeed, it's a touching moment where Ericson talks with horrified realisation while watching Shylock gazing back at him from an SS truck, driving off into the distance and the certainty of doom.
It's a masterful performance, a smart spectacle and a further testament to Ericson's growing magnificence as a modern playwright and performer.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan