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Brit-pop Shakespeare

Posted on 27th February 2007. No Comment

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Chris Jefferies travels to Venice with This Theatre Company
one-way ticket to venice, please | brit-pop shakespeare | strikingly stylish
One Way Ticket To Venice, Please
The prospect of escaping to Venice in February is one the average Durham student would leap at and, being your average Durham student (well, more or less) I accepted This Theatre Company’s invitation with much excitement. I have to admit, I am fairly cynical of modern interpretations of Shakespeare, which vary from the sublime to the downright awful. Fortunately this version of The Merchant of Venice came much nearer the former. The complications of language and characterisation were tackled with evident verve and energy by a very strong cast, with few weak links. At the centre of it all, Neil Wates played Bassanio with an assured command of the text, strong stage presence, but little flair. If this production is to be taken in the context of modern comedy, then his performance may have been designed to be the ‘Straight Man’ who the more flamboyant characters played off. Such flamboyancy was supplied in truck-loads by Jez Scharf, as the effervescent Gratiano. Bounding about the stage with infectious comedic energy, Scharf earned a strong reaction from the audience, particularly through his drunken revelry during Lorenzo’s courtship scene.

However, the most memorable character in this play is undoubtedly the infamous Shylock, an elusive figure who is incredibly hard to pin down. The immense challenge of playing one of Shakespeare’s most complicated roles fell to Mitch Whitehead, who was simply excellent. Shifty and suspicious in the early scenes, Whitehead lurked in the shadows and brought a sinister tone to every scene he was involved in. His later spite and malice in the court scene was particularly compelling, as the production got to grips with the racial depths of this controversial play. As a counter-point to Shylock, Oliver King’s depiction of Antonio, the generous Merchant, was strong and dignified, his kindness towards Bassanio contrastingly greatly with his disdain for Shylock.

Brit-Pop Shakespeare
Asides from the immediate demands of the text, director Hugh de la Bedoyère made several significant interpretations intended to give the production a mid-90s feel. First off, we were besieged by the cocky tones of Oasis and dynamic lighting, which certainly grabbed the audience’s attention right from the start. The use of Brit-pop continued throughout the production, from Kasabian providing the cover music for the set-changes, to Radiohead accompanying the strobe-lit beating of Tubal at the opening of the second half – a scene which was both original and highly effective. Further to this, the stage was filled with mod cons such as leather sofas and even a laptop. Accordingly the cast were decked out in suits and modern dresses which largely fitted the overall scheme of things. One particular problem, however, came with Portia’s dress, which fell in between ballgown and nightie. This was compounded by the Prince’s of Navarre and Prince of Morocco’s costumes, which clearly looked as though they had been lifted from the renaissance period, rather than the modern day. Indeed, the scenes in Belmont smacked of incongruity, with an ivy-entwined trellis and three ornate stands for the gold, silver and lead boxes. Whilst this may be a realistic enough sight in an Italian country villa, perhaps a stronger effort should have been made towards incorporating these scenes into the overall design of the play.

Strikingly Stylish
What held these scenes together, though, was another series of commendable performances. Madeleine Knight played Portia with considerable grace and composure, climaxing with her manipulation of the court scene and the mercy speech, which was particularly arresting. Furthermore, the caricatured mannerisms of David Kreysa and Adam Blampied as the two failed suitors, were simply delightful. When the cast began to pair off however, a hint of awkwardness began to arise. Knight and Wates as Portia and Bassanio did not make an particularly convincing couple, and more could have been done to make their eventual entanglement more believably romantic.
Whilst I have mentioned many of the problems with this production, it still came across as an accomplished and well thought-out show which exhibited considerable ambition. Many bold ideas were incorporated and the range of characterisation was excellent, with many more performances deserving a mention (James Elliott as Lancelot and Jake West as Gobbo being particularly memorable). Whilst there were a few niggles which could have been ironed out, This Theatre Company managed to pull of a strikingly stylish production which took a fresh approach to this Shakespearean classic.

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  • Crom said:

     

    I too liked this production. But I thought the scenes in Belmont had been deliberatley staged to be antithetical to the 'grittiness' of the Venice scenes, as an effective 'fairyland' where people don't need to worry about the serious matters of life. The only thing that irked was the flashing disco lights between the scenes. But as I think there were meant to be dancers  performing at these moments, who dropped out in the production week (I believe) then I suppose it couldn't be helped.

  • Crom said:

     

    I too liked this production. But I thought the scenes in Belmont had been deliberatley staged to be antithetical to the 'grittiness' of the Venice scenes, as an effective 'fairyland' where people don't need to worry about the serious matters of life. The only thing that irked was the flashing disco lights between the scenes. But as I think there were meant to be dancers  performing at these moments, who dropped out in the production week (I believe) then I suppose it couldn't be helped.

  • Crom said:

     

    I too liked this production. But I thought the scenes in Belmont had been deliberatley staged to be antithetical to the 'grittiness' of the Venice scenes, as an effective 'fairyland' where people don't need to worry about the serious matters of life. The only thing that irked was the flashing disco lights between the scenes. But as I think there were meant to be dancers  performing at these moments, who dropped out in the production week (I believe) then I suppose it couldn't be helped.

  • Gethin said:

    I agree with the majority of Chris' comments.  However I think that although largely a good play the relationship you mention between Wates' and Scharf's (straight man and clown) didn't work.  Scharf's portrayal was in my opinion too flamboyant which waas either through his own fault or perhaps Wates needed to match his energy a bit more.  This could be said about Wates in general and maybe was also the cause of his lack of chemistry with Knight.  Wates can be excellent (as in The Caretaker) but in this play when surrounded by other actors who were much bigger his characterisation was almost too naturalistic.

  • Gethin said:

    I agree with the majority of Chris' comments.  However I think that although largely a good play the relationship you mention between Wates' and Scharf's (straight man and clown) didn't work.  Scharf's portrayal was in my opinion too flamboyant which waas either through his own fault or perhaps Wates needed to match his energy a bit more.  This could be said about Wates in general and maybe was also the cause of his lack of chemistry with Knight.  Wates can be excellent (as in The Caretaker) but in this play when surrounded by other actors who were much bigger his characterisation was almost too naturalistic.

  • Gethin said:

    I agree with the majority of Chris' comments.  However I think that although largely a good play the relationship you mention between Wates' and Scharf's (straight man and clown) didn't work.  Scharf's portrayal was in my opinion too flamboyant which waas either through his own fault or perhaps Wates needed to match his energy a bit more.  This could be said about Wates in general and maybe was also the cause of his lack of chemistry with Knight.  Wates can be excellent (as in The Caretaker) but in this play when surrounded by other actors who were much bigger his characterisation was almost too naturalistic.

  • Stefania said:

    Alack alas due to the usual final year work commitments, I didn't get to see this play (big regret having read the review), but I did want to congratulate whoever created the publicity posters, they really were stunningly designed and some of the most attractive and eye-catching that I've seen around Durham for some time!

  • Stefania said:

    Alack alas due to the usual final year work commitments, I didn't get to see this play (big regret having read the review), but I did want to congratulate whoever created the publicity posters, they really were stunningly designed and some of the most attractive and eye-catching that I've seen around Durham for some time!

  • Stefania said:

    Alack alas due to the usual final year work commitments, I didn't get to see this play (big regret having read the review), but I did want to congratulate whoever created the publicity posters, they really were stunningly designed and some of the most attractive and eye-catching that I've seen around Durham for some time!

  • Hanna said:

    Just wanted to say that I thought this production was really well put together, nicely executed by all involved.I too did not get the flashy disco lights but it certainly did not detract from my enjoyment of some really lovely performances. Particular mention to Mitch Whitehead as Shylock (I didn’t except such a subtle interpretation of the role but I liked it) and to Ollie King as Antonio- that part is one of the more difficult Shakespeare roles (due to his irritating perpetual petulance) and I thought he handled beautifully, most notably in the trial scene. Ollie's roles have tended to be of the more heightened farcical variety but here he proved himself as a serious actor of great merit and of huge potential.

    Well done Hugh and everyone involved (Maddy was also particularly impressive). I still hate the last act of that play but it at least, in this production, made me laugh so I was happy. 

     

  • Hanna said:

    Just wanted to say that I thought this production was really well put together, nicely executed by all involved.I too did not get the flashy disco lights but it certainly did not detract from my enjoyment of some really lovely performances. Particular mention to Mitch Whitehead as Shylock (I didn’t except such a subtle interpretation of the role but I liked it) and to Ollie King as Antonio- that part is one of the more difficult Shakespeare roles (due to his irritating perpetual petulance) and I thought he handled beautifully, most notably in the trial scene. Ollie's roles have tended to be of the more heightened farcical variety but here he proved himself as a serious actor of great merit and of huge potential.

    Well done Hugh and everyone involved (Maddy was also particularly impressive). I still hate the last act of that play but it at least, in this production, made me laugh so I was happy. 

     

  • Hanna said:

    Just wanted to say that I thought this production was really well put together, nicely executed by all involved.I too did not get the flashy disco lights but it certainly did not detract from my enjoyment of some really lovely performances. Particular mention to Mitch Whitehead as Shylock (I didn’t except such a subtle interpretation of the role but I liked it) and to Ollie King as Antonio- that part is one of the more difficult Shakespeare roles (due to his irritating perpetual petulance) and I thought he handled beautifully, most notably in the trial scene. Ollie's roles have tended to be of the more heightened farcical variety but here he proved himself as a serious actor of great merit and of huge potential.

    Well done Hugh and everyone involved (Maddy was also particularly impressive). I still hate the last act of that play but it at least, in this production, made me laugh so I was happy. 

     

  • Mitch Whitehead said:

    I very very rarely ever comment on a show I've been in, but I'm going to this time because it could well be my last big part in Durham. I had an amazing time doing this show and have made some incredibly close friends out of it, but that aside, as a piece of theatre, I thought it was excellent. Hugh was a superb director who stretched us as far as we could and helped to shape the fantastic performances that you saw. Thank you to everyone who said great things. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast, sadly not everyone thinks this is the case and I would encourage all of you who said great things to join me in shock and, to be honest, a little disappointment at the forth coming palatinate review. That aside, I'm glad people enjoyed it. It certainly does have some tricky characters and a lot of dark scenes to be balanced with the lighter ones but I'm proud of what we did as a group and what I did as an actor. If Shylock turns out to be my last big part in Durham than I can be happy that I'll leave on a high note.

  • Mitch Whitehead said:

    I very very rarely ever comment on a show I've been in, but I'm going to this time because it could well be my last big part in Durham. I had an amazing time doing this show and have made some incredibly close friends out of it, but that aside, as a piece of theatre, I thought it was excellent. Hugh was a superb director who stretched us as far as we could and helped to shape the fantastic performances that you saw. Thank you to everyone who said great things. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast, sadly not everyone thinks this is the case and I would encourage all of you who said great things to join me in shock and, to be honest, a little disappointment at the forth coming palatinate review. That aside, I'm glad people enjoyed it. It certainly does have some tricky characters and a lot of dark scenes to be balanced with the lighter ones but I'm proud of what we did as a group and what I did as an actor. If Shylock turns out to be my last big part in Durham than I can be happy that I'll leave on a high note.

  • Mitch Whitehead said:

    I very very rarely ever comment on a show I've been in, but I'm going to this time because it could well be my last big part in Durham. I had an amazing time doing this show and have made some incredibly close friends out of it, but that aside, as a piece of theatre, I thought it was excellent. Hugh was a superb director who stretched us as far as we could and helped to shape the fantastic performances that you saw. Thank you to everyone who said great things. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast, sadly not everyone thinks this is the case and I would encourage all of you who said great things to join me in shock and, to be honest, a little disappointment at the forth coming palatinate review. That aside, I'm glad people enjoyed it. It certainly does have some tricky characters and a lot of dark scenes to be balanced with the lighter ones but I'm proud of what we did as a group and what I did as an actor. If Shylock turns out to be my last big part in Durham than I can be happy that I'll leave on a high note.