By Rachel Creaser, TD editorial assistant
Currently playing at Shakespeare’s Globe is The Merchant of Venice – part of the theatre’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank season, now in its eighth year. It provides 17,000 free tickets to state-funded London secondary school students. Subsidised tickets for schools from outside London have also been made available – 8,400 for this particular production.
This production of The Merchant of Venice has been specifically created with an audience of 11 to 16 year olds in mind. The Playing Shakespeare initiative allows students the opportunity to experience Shakespeare live, and for some this may be the first time they’ve seen the Bard’s work in action: and it’s a great first experience.
There was lots of energy in the production right from the off – as I made my way to my seat, I was accompanied by live musicians (who were fantastic throughout), watching the cast dance on stage, and move round the space interacting with the audience. This initial connection and atmosphere helps to ward off any feelings that Shakespeare and his ‘olde worlde’ language are off limits to young people.
The story follows Bassanio who is hoping to win the heart of wealthy heiress Portia, who is looking for a suitor. Lacking funds, Bassanio turns to his good friend Antonio for help with money to pursue his love interest. Antonio, acting as a guarantor, secures a loan for Bassanio with Jewish moneylender Shylock, who agrees to charge no interest – but, if the debt cannot be repaid, Antonio must repay Shylock with a pound of his flesh. When Antonio’s ships are reported lost at sea – his only source of income to repay his loan to Shylock – he is brought before a court of law to plead his case.
Both Bassanio and Antonio look as if they’ve stepped out of an episode of Made in Chelsea in their sharp suits, and Portia is also decked out in stylish dresses and heels. These modern flecks help to make what is a relevant story to this era seem even more pertinent.
Catherine Bailey as Portia was enjoyable to watch – both confident and commanding, while still providing moments of wit. Mark Kane also had a great stage presence; particularly as the rather goofy clown-like Launcelot Gobbo – he received the biggest laughs of the evening.
This production is a great jumping off point for exploring the themes of the play further: Ognen Drangovski’s portrayal of Shylock sought audible sympathy from the audience, so it would be interesting to discuss with students how they felt Shylock was treated by the other characters. And what implications they felt his Jewish faith brought to the story. Also, what did they think was more important to Shylock: money or his daughter Jessica?
The show’s microsite is just as user friendly and enjoyable as the Globe’s usual offerings, so take a visit to make the most of the resources available: http://2014.playingshakespeare.org.