Preview: The Merchant of Venice

Image credit: Alex Barnett

Set in a flooded Venice of the near future, this week’s adaptation of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ promises to be one of the most ambitious productions staged at the ADC. With an incredible set, comprising, amongst other things, drawbridges and a functional gondola, and a radical gender recasting of Shylock, this production is certainly not to be missed.

The flooded Venice of the near future undoubtedly has dystopian environmental connotations, but like many of the changes made to the script, does not feel heavy handedly moralizing. As director Myles O’ Gorman points out, the play is rarely staged in Venice so, in this respect, the production is unusual in its fidelity to the text in this respect and hasn’t made any gratuitously gimmicky alterations. This seems especially fitting for a play that never preaches but subtly, and powerfully, critiques the prevalent attitude of antisemitism through Shylock's famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?... If you prick us, do we not bleed?" speech.

Spending time in both the main stage and the workshop, I saw both the impressive visual mock ups of the aforementioned set and their tangible counterparts, which are being constructed by a team that even includes a plumber. The design and carpentry team have had extensive experience on an array of visually dazzling performances, including several pantomimes. For several of them, this will be their final production and it looks like they plan on going out with a watery bang.

The set is, however, not a gratuitous display of virtuosity but rather serves to subtly signify the fault lines in the society of the play; the oppressed Jews live in shanty like houses closes to the water whilst the predominating Christians live in elaborate houses raised above the water. The set also contains a “stage island” partially extending into the audience, which creates a slight feeling of theatre in the round and its corollary intimacy. From a practical point of view, the extended stage also broadens the scope of staging possibilities, with there being a better capacity for split scenes and alternative locations, such as Belmont which is recast as being stuck in the noughties.

This combination of aesthetic brilliance and compelling performance should make this show unmissable this week at the ADC!

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