DVD REVIEW: The RSC’s Merchant of Venice
This year may be the battle of the Cymbelines, with the Royal Shakespeare Company presenting their take while the Globe present two versions, one currently running in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and Imogen (a “retitled and reclaimed” production) part of Emma Rice’s inaugural season. Last year the two establishments presented alternate takes on The Merchant of Venice with Polly Findlay’s RSC production the first to arrive on DVD.
I saw the Globe production and thoroughly enjoyed it (you can read that review here) but I didn’t get along to Stratford for the RSC take so was looking forward to checking it out once it was available on disc.
First impressions then – this is a markedly different take from Jonathan Munby’s vibrant production at Bankside. Where that production was bustling and colourful Findlay’s production is almost monochrome and the players seem dwarfed on the vast stage. Johannes Schütz provides a metallic wall that glints in gold and reflects the action taking place while a gigantic pendulum swings to one side (and can be extremely distracting).
The performances are mostly as flat as the colour palette too, with Jamie Ballard’s Antonio thoroughly unlikeable and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd a bland and unappealing Bassanio. Thankfully Makram J Khoury is a mischievous Shylock who manages to hook the audience and still be a somewhat villainous soul, enjoying the tension he places on Antonio when offering to lend money to Bassanio. Tim Samuels too adds a spot of humour with his Launcelot Gobbo, a painted faced player who sits in the audience to address them directly.
There are a couple of delightful performances though, Ken Nwosu’s strutting streetwise Gratiano adding literal and figurative colour while Patsy Ferran shows why her name is so highly touted as a compelling Portia.
The whole though, while intriguing, simply lacks the variety and lightness of the Globe’s take, though for all that it’s a worthwhile watch and a decent take on the play in its own right.