The Merchant of Venice
Reviewed at Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton
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That old controversial classic from Shakespeare gets modernised and even more sensationalised as it moves to the Venice of the near future, with a peaking Eurozone crisis and everything just generally going tits up for tomorrow’s Venetians both financially and emotionally. It’s an ultimately valid but pretty predictable contemporary commentary, smartly blanketed by a move that propels it to the present day in a bolder and more innovative way, with the thoughtful decision to cast a female Shylock - played to superbly scary effect by co-director Petina Hapwood.
Hoxton heroine Hapwood was asked to direct for The Courtyard again after her previous Shakespearean summer success with A Midsummer’s Night Dream last year. It’s clear to see why, equipped with a carefully hand-picked cast, a lot of which are a roll call of City Lit’s finest. These include Wind-Up Collective wonder Billy Hicks being perfectly cast as Launcelot Gobbo, effortlessly sweeping in the necessary comic energy, Christopher Poke, faultlessly flipping between the Duke of Venice and Old Gobbo, poignantly sweet in the latter, and Jason Hewitt as a suitably tanned Antonio, frolicking in the latent gay subtext with close companion Bassanio (James Heatlie).
Goodmann Productions’ adaptation does the original play’s memorable dramatic moments justice, with the rather intense eventual courtroom scene. Welcome comedic interjections are present with a recurring reality television show, in which Portia’s (Lucinda Lloyd) potential suitors compete to win her affections. This is mainly saved by the hilarious Natan Barreto and Martin Sales as the Princes of Morocco and Arragon respectively, the latter representing the talent tipping out of The Court Theatre Training Company. Deborahgrace Bensberg and Nicholas Bensberg add a purely divine musical depth to the piece, while the prop and set design is simple and subtle.
The sheer length puts the editing into question, and whether everything depicted was entirely needed. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable and relevant reworking of a timeless tale with a top ensemble of both cast and crew.
The Merchant of Venice is showing at The Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton until 30 September, details and tickets here.
Words: Samuel Reynolds