Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is one of those plays that I leave with a different point of view from the last show. Director Adrian Noble’s production is an equilibrium of characters.
Even though Shylock comes to mind when thinking about The Merchant of Venice, his character isn’t the largest or the main role. The character with the most lines is Portia and the title role goes to Antonio. With all the whining Shylock does, it appears he is the main character. His voice is loud and the play centers on Shylock. Isn’t Shylock being the center of attention just like life? The one with the loudest voice is heard and focused on—not necessarily the consensus.
Being that the people in society who are the most obnoxious tend to get too much media attention it is a relief to see Miles Anderson who plays Shylock walk away defeated. I never thought of it this way, but I like that Shylock doesn’t win in the end. Another production I saw of The Merchant, Shylock is completely wronged or rather I felt complete sympathy for him. Either way it shows how two different cultures live in disharmony.
This play is spoken of as problematic because it is debated whether it is a comedy, tragedy or tragicomedy; is it anti-Semitic or a reflection of society; it doesn’t have a solution or a happily ever after. Miles Anderson as Shylock looks through a window at his daughter, happy with her Christian friends and husband, and walks off in rags having lost everything. The expression on his face shows for the first time, genuine love for his daughter Jessica (Winslow Corbett).
Perhaps, Anderson’s relenting Shylock allows for Portia to be the heroine. Krystel Lucas as Portia is left a handsome inheritance, but not without a test for the suitors. Lucas shows her apprehension in her body language and face as the suitors read the riddles. The last suitor, Bassanio played by Lucas Hall, is wise enough to choose the right box. Krystel Lucas’ face lights up with a winning smile. So, really Portia chose well. An entertaining scene to find out Portia and Bassanio are meant to be together. It makes one wonder if this play could be played completely as a comedy.
Bassanio’s friend Antonio, played by Donald Carrier, is in trouble with Shylock, owing him money. Carrier’s Antonio tips lavishly and spends loaned money on a gamble. Even his top hat and coat by costume designer Deirdre Clancy is over-the-top. Carrier’s character is satisfying in the wake of societies tumble.
The closest to a solution, Portia dresses up as a lawyer and argues in court that in the contract—how a “pound of flesh” is removed is not determined. She tells Shylock he must take the “pound of flesh” without a drop of blood. Portia outwits him by using the law.
It’s like Shakespeare said, “Two can play at this game.” Shylock is so adamant about the Law that he won’t forgive. In the end, he is defeated by the law and his own game leaving him unrighteous.
The Old Globe’s The Merchant of Venice runs through September 28, 2013.