Hillbark Players – The Merchant of Venice
Monday 24th to Saturday 29th June 2013
That feeling of being in a theatre, before it is full or after it is empty, that sense of a place waiting, of action being held back for you is a delight. There is something special about Hillbark Players’ Merchant of Venice with its grass for a stage and woodland as a backdrop to painted scenery.
The constructed stage where a few weeks ago there was none, covered seating and not entirely unkind weather adds weight to the creative spell.
A tableau of Venice, of the bustle and confusion, the contrasts between the different factors at work opens the play. It places us in a world at once complex and uneasy. There’s a great deal of grace in the offering of this opening.
Shakespeare remains troubling because so rarely does he offer absolute relief. There is so much here, not least the resistance of any temptation to provide a happy ending simply for its own sake.
If you should need a reason to depart the comfort of the house to brave the elements consider Gratiano’s delivery of this line:-
“Why should a man, whose blood is warm within, sit like his grandsire cut in alabaster”
The added drama of the wind lost to some convincing delivery by the Hillbark Players.
Portia is compelling: her initially gentle subversion of authority sits happily with her femininity. She offers with conviction the insult to a suitor that his image is: “A proper man’s picture.”
We are offered quick humour by an accomplished Launcelot Gobbo, the fight between aspects of his personality and cruelty of his wit at his father’s expense.
There are cultural references a plenty; the idea of Shylock’s “pound of flesh”, ancient at the time of Shakespeare’s writing and acting as a language worm through popular language and culture references as distant as the television serialisation of V.
The production satisfies our love of spectacle and shocks us with the reminder that in the complexity of both hero and villain there is no absolute; good or evil.
There sense of acceleration as the cast approaches the reveals within the plot is both well-handled and convincing.
The last image the production renders, at once both sad and beautiful, is Jessica receiving the news of Shylock’s death.
This is a great production in a fantastic setting and it runs for the remainder of this week. Tickets are available via the Floral Pavilion Theatre 0151 666 0000 or www.floralpavillion.com Further information is available from www.hillbarkplayers.co.uk