The Merchant of Venice

8 Sep

This is Shakespeare by video conference – which suggests something about the times, and about the nature of drama.

During a pandemic we seek new ways to share dramatic stories, and this production of The Merchant of Venice is inventive and intriguing.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the play. For me, the comedic situations sit awkwardly with the more serious exploration of intolerance. And the courtroom scene – despite Portia’s paean to mercy, or perhaps because of it – is awful. Not awful in the modern sense of being bad, but awful in the older sense of striking one with awe or causing dread.  That scene – with its deliberate mixing of theatrical artifice and painfully raw honesty, with its disconcerting confluence of the best and the worst in human nature – makes it difficult to care much about the lovers’ fooleries that follow.

Director Roslyn Hicks navigates this dangerous play with a light hand; allowing exuberance to glisten on the surface, while permitting the audience to sense for themselves the disturbing currents that swirl beneath. The cast embrace this approach with admirable energy and a fine control of the Shakespearean language.

And what a peculiar production in which to perform!

Presumably, each actor is alone in their own private space, waiting before their own camera. When they’re in a scene, they’re always in view, regardless if they’re speaking or not, isolated in their own little segment of screen. When they do speak, they speak directly to the camera. No one ever can touch.

What is this?

Theatre?

Film?

Zoom.

It’s not, of course.

What it is, is an invitation to consider both the parameters and potential of form.

Everyone wants the pandemic to end soon. This experiment might be a response to that pandemic, but hopefully it will live and grow.

 

The Merchant of Venice

by William Shakespeare

produced by Streamed Shakespeare

performed live 21st to 23rd August

now available on demand http://www.streamedshakespeare.com/

 

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