The Merchant of Venice review (of sorts)

Here’s a quick review I knocked up after my trip to watch the Merchant of Venice yesterday. I’m no critic, just a man who likes to tickle the keyboard and spread a little culture love, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. Many thanks to Stuart Rathe for the invitation.

Last night, I had the great pleasure of attending the preview of the Merchant of Venice by Hillbark Players. The open-air venue made for a tempestuous evening, full of  high drama and equally high winds…

For those that don’t know, this is a story of friendship, love and revenge, set in the historical city of Venice. Antonio, the said merchant, agrees to lend his friend Bassanio a bag of cash so that he can court the radiant heiress, Portia. As all Antonio’s ships are at sea – which will now become my euphemism for being broke – he must approach a moneylender, Shylock, for the dough. Unfortunately for Antonio, Shylock bears him a grudge – he takes exception to Antonio’s loutish antisemitism – and tricks him into forfeiting a pound of his flesh if he cannot pay on time. Meanwhile, Portia is learning to live with the bizarre terms of her father’s will. These decree that she can only marry the man who correctly chooses the box – either gold, silver or lead – which contains her portrait. It’s like Deal or No Deal, but with fewer boxes, less cash and with a lady’s hand (and heart) at stake. As we follow the progress of Portia’s suitors, we discover that pirates have seized Antonio’s ships leading to a tense finale where the implacable Shylock demands his *pound of flesh*. That’s enough about the story, let’s turn to the performance.

The performance was very stimulating, full of energy and honesty. The staging worked very well and the outdoor arena gave the players ample room to work their magic. The language took a little getting used to, especially against the backdrop of a mild hurricane, but I was soon in the swing of things. For me, the piece really comes alive during the comedic turns provided by Launcelot and the Prince of Aragon. Gratiano’s performance also deserves a special mention; both funny and engaging, and topped off with a healthy dollop of camp. Finally, it is to the companies’ immense credit that they did not let the frankly frightening weather conditions, or nearby firework display, to impact on their performance. I imagine they will reach even greater heights when the odds are in their favour.

As someone who left Shakespeare at the school gates, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. I’ll definitely seek out more Shakespeare, and you should seek out the Hillbark Hotel for an evening of high drama, young love and dark comedy.

Tickets are £10-£20 and are only available via the Floral Pavilion New Brighton: on-line, in person or by phone 0151-666-0000. Monday 24th – Saturday 29th June

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