The Merchant of Venice
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe
The casual racism of a bunch of drunken lads opens the impressive Globe production of The Merchant of Venice. The character Launcelot (Aaron Vodovoz), the servant to Shylock, is being forced to drink a shot of alcohol each time he uses the word Jew which the five well-dressed men echo with the repeated chant of Jew.
In contrast, Adrian Schiller in a remarkably strong performance as Shylock is gentle and reflective, implying layers of depth to his character. Dressed in a modern outdoor jacket, he could be any downtrodden working man. It is easy for the audience to identify with him, to be opposed to the racist bullying he receives.
It’s there in every contact he has with the other characters. It is unreasoned and trivial from people who are depicted as largely self-absorbed, who live in a superficial hedonistic world where Portia’s (Sophie Melville) marriage is arranged by a game show in which, scantily clad in a sparkling dress, she dances upon a silver pedestal.
There is never any doubt where the show's sympathies lie. Even in the court scene as Shylock hesitantly prepares to cut the flesh off Antonio (Michael Gould), he clutches at the cloth of a child’s doll that belonged to the daughter he lost and seems unable to use the knife despite Antonio urging him on. No wonder I saw a couple of audience members nod when Shylock angrily says in one of a small number of insertions into the text, “fuck your laws.”
And it is the court scene that ends this performance with the defeated Shylock walking from the theatre like a weary refugee as the rest of the characters scramble in an orgy of exhilaration at the wealth of Shylock that is scattered across the stage.
As their noisy excitement quietens, Jessica, looking horrified, arrives to sing the haunting Kol Nidre, the words of a persecuted people which are believed to date back to the 6th century and the forced conversion of Jews.
It is an unsettling finish to this fine anti-racist production directed by Abigail Graham. There are moments in this performance you will remember long after you leave the theatre.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna