Review: Japan Tour – The Merchant Of Venice

Isobel Laidler 15 October 2014

'I really trusted our director. I think she just wanted to tell the story… so it was a clear portrayal' – Jess Peet

Pembroke Players Japan Tour was founded in 2007 and every year takes a Shakespeare play around Japan during the Summer vacation. This year's production, 'The Merchant of Venice'  certainly ignites sparks of inspiration; its just a shame that these moments are so interspersed.

Interestingly, the cast believed Pembroke New Cellars to be "totally the wrong place" for the show (James Ellis), and consensus seems to be that the new white look has completely altered the space. Perhaps if the show had been given more theatrically conventional setting this Merchant of Venice could thrive. Sadly, in its current format the show falls short.

Peet, an elegant Jessica, has also suggested that the play is so tied to its cultural setting that any shift from this original context (historical Venice full of anti-semitism and court power) risks damaging the fabric of the plot. I sympathise with this and Emma Wilkinson can only be respected for her aim of a pure production, free of distracting concepts and quirky perspectives so often tagged to Shakespeare's plays. However, the entire production is harmed by the fact the cast simply don’t commit to this historical setting. Their physicality is distractingly modern, with only Kate Reid's Portia and Kassie Chalk's Nerissa as exceptions.

The cast do have a firm grasp of verse, leading to undeniable moments of joy; Seb Sutcliffe's Salerio has a voice to melt for, Charlie Merriman becomes entirely immersed in the character Bassanio, and the speeches of Kate Reid's Portia and James Ellis's Antonio command the language with eloquent honesty. I would suggest the play is worth seeing for these moments of intimacy alone. Despite this, an overall lack of variation in tone, speed, and volume, make for a mildly monotonous two hours – these glimmers of beauty were surrounded by bland decisions that affected the set, sound and lighting as well as the cast.


Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

The Merchant Of Venice is on at Pembroke New Cellars at 7.30pm until Saturday 18th. Tickets are avaliable at