The Merchant of Venice, RSC 2008 (7th June 2008, 8th October 2008, 25th October 2008)

The Merchant of Venice (Royal Shakespeare Company) Courtyard Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.)The production of The Merchant of Venice, which we saw in Newcastle, raised many interesting questions about the play. It was a production which asked the audience to make meanings. It raised questions about the character of Shylock, the differences between Belmont and Venice and the rashness of decisions which other productions do not address. It was a slow paced first half, but a very fast paced second half. The first half was very serious and the second half after the tension of the trial scene highlighted some of the comedy in the play. The set was interesting and asked us to use our imagination as the audience. Maybe the designer had the current Rothko exhibition in mind when she was thinking about the set. How did the set make you feel?On its opening at The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon, the critics tended to be very negative about this production. Robert Gore Langdon in The Telegraph [1] described the production as a “cold-fish RSC production, which seems to go out of its way to avoid any sense of passion and racial hatred”. John Peter in The Times was even less impressed saying “Tim Carroll opens the RSC’s new season with the dreariest and most sloppily directed account of this play I’ve ever seen.”[2] The Evening Standard reviewer felt “ANY Shakespearian newcomer watching Tim Carroll’s awesomely bland, emotionally stunted production of The Merchant of Venice would be forgiven for thinking the comedy a mere, romantic fairy tale, in which Portia proves the value of true love and mercy at the expense of a mercenary Jew.”[3] Have you got some thoughts regarding these comments? As a member of the audience do you agree or do you think the critics have not taken the audience’s reaction into account.If a production does not receive critical acclaim, would it be possible to gain any understanding of Shakespeare’s text from watching it? I think we can. I think we can think about the decisions the director and the actors have made and decide whether they work for us or not. If they do not work we can think about the reasons behind the decisions and that very process may lead to us considering aspects and interpretations which are new to us. Tim Carroll’s production was asking the audience to do a lot of work and rather overlaying the production with too many images and meanings, it asked the audience to bring their own interpretations. In many ways it is the antithesis to the other 2008 productions, such as Doran’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, in its approach.It is important to remember that the critics review productions early in the run and as the production works through the season, actors and directors have opportunities to change things in response to audience reactions and their feelings about how things are going. We did see some changes from the Stratford production and mainly because of the different playing spaces. There was shift from a thrust sage to a proscenium arch theatre which meant much of the direct contact with the audience was lost. In Newcastle we did watch at a distance, but I felt this didn’t spoil our viewing.I think this production did some very interesting things. The dance at the beginning immediately connected the audience with the action. The dance at the end mirrored the one at the start but reflected the fragmented relationships which had resulted by the events of the play. The rhythm which runs through the play in the beat of the language is set in motion by this dance.What is the impact of having a young Bassanio and Antonio in the production? Does it give the actors some freedom to work with the text in a way that older actors can’t? For example, I felt that there was a rashness about some of the decisions because they were made by younger characters. This effect might not have been the same with a mature Antonio and Bassanio.

[1]Sunday Telegraph, The (London, England)-April 20, 2008Author: Robert Gore-Langton
[2] Sunday Times, The (London, England)-April 20, 2008Author: John Peter
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