Tag Archives: Andrew D Edwards

The Merchant of Venice

reviewed at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 29 August

Gender-, age- and colour-blind casting is an excellent thing. In theory. In practice it can be incredibly distracting unless made logical by the drama itself. The three comedies which Brendan O’Hea has directed for Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour this summer use only eight actors, most of whom double or treble rôles.

Designer Andrew D Edwards doesn’t really clarify anything with his costumes; the set is a stark matter of two-level boarding with metal supports. The cast play and sing the Bill Barclay’s music in the course of the action and to top and tail the show.

Shylock is the dominant character in The Merchant of Venice. Sarah Finigan offers both the man’s bitterness as a Venetian second-class resident and his certainty of his own righteousness as a Jew, a family man and a money-lender. She speaks the lines admirably with a full sense of what they mean.

That is also true of Russell Layton’s Antonio, brooding as much on possible sexual frustration as for the vulnerability of his trading ships. Rhianna McGreevy as Nerissa, Steffan Cennydd as Lorenzo, the Prince of Aragon and the Doge and Jacqueline Phillips’s Portia are also good.

It’s a play which, however well you think you know it and have experienced a variety of productions, should concentrate the audience’s attention on its tangle of themes. Racial stereotyping is certainly one; whether the power which money brings is inhibiting or a force for good/evil is another.

Concentrating on this is difficult when you are distracted by a young woman playing a middle-aged man or an imbalance of age with two of the wooing couples. That androgynous costuming doesn’t help. You can parallel how plays toured in the late 16th century, but we see with 21st century eyes and listen with 21st century ears.

Simplicity of staging should allow an audience to focus directly on the play. As with all such things, simplicity is a transparent and fragile shield. What is revealed is all-important. For me, this production distracted just as much as an overly elaborate or time-shifted one.

Three and a half-star rating.

The Merchant of Venice plays in repertoire with The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 1 September. There are matinées on 30 August and 1 September.

 

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Romeo & Juliet

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 30 June)

This new touring production of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare’s Globe is a concentrated affair. Because it is a story about young people still in their teenage (their elders only make things worse, not better), the characters’ impatience is mirrored by the way in which directors Dominic Dromgoole and Tim Hoare intercut scenes in an manner more often encountered on film than on stage.

it’s extremely effective, ensuring that we’re caught up in the drama from its very beginning. Andrew D Edwards’ set is a brown-wood, rope-edged affair on two levels, against which the off-white costumes stand out. Most of the cast take on at least two characters and provide the, at times, raucous musical accompaniment (the composer is Bill Barclay).. We are in hot Verona, but it’s a timeless sort of place.

Choreographer Siân Williams and fight director Kevin McCurdy have devised some effective moments. There’s a particularly effective Mercutio by Steffan Donnelly (who also doubles the Prince) and a marvellously country wise-woman Nurse by Sarah Higgins. Matt Doherty contrasts Paris and Tybalt to considerable effect.

You can believe completely n Samuel Valentine’s Romeo as a youth on the cusp of adulthood, conscious that he owes his family and city a duty but reluctant to step up to it. Mooning over the unattainable Rosaline and larking about with his friends is so much more an apparently easier option.

Cassie Layton’s Juliet is also a credibly teenager, confiding in the audience as though to a coded diary as she comes to terms with the threat as well as the blessing of love and marriage. The older Capulets – Steven Elder and Hannah McPake – make a couple to be reckoned with, unleashing their fury at Juliet’s apparently wilful disobedience (she had, after all, earlier seemed delighted by the idea of marrying Paris) in a flailing crescendo.

Tom Kanji makes Benvolio into the butt of his friends’ japes, then gives us a somewhat rough-hewn Friar Laurence, a simple man who means well but is totally out of his depth when he tries to play God. As the humour fades with the daylight and the tragedy unfolds itself, its inevitability brings its own catharsis.

Romeo & Juliet plays at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 4 July as part of a national tour.

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