Pleasing simplicity of Shakesperian production

Review: Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, The Summer Theatre Company. The Stables Theatre. Directed by Peter Mould.

Director Peter Mould and his troupe’s annual summer Shakepeare productions have become a highlight of the local theatrical calendar. But Merchant of Venice had the potential to misfire even in the hands of a company so well-versed in The Bard.

Few Shakespeare plays divide opinion as much as this, owing to central themes which can be interpreted as anti-Semitic. Countless stage and screen productions have depicted the play’s iconic character, the Jewish money lender Shylock, as a grotesque pantomime villain and the epitome of materialistic evil in contrast to the Christians.

An outstanding cast of experienced local actors rose to the challenge in this colourful and entertaining production. While reluctant to pick out individuals from this talented ensemble, Peter Mould’s sympathetic and compelling performance as Shylock set the tone. The avoidance of caricature allowed the audience to reach its own conclusions on the play’s much-debated themes.

This show was originally staged in an outdoor venue – The Barn Theatre at Smallhythe Place, Kent – and was by necessity stripped of set and scenery. Instead the cast relied on teamwork, energy and pace to bring 16th century Venice to life.

Performed in lavish period costume, this production was free from the distractions of many Shakespeare modern adaptations. The cast made the most of the comic opportunities presented – particularly in the casting of Stewart Farmer as all three suitors for the hand of the heiress.

The denouement of the play, where Shylock attempts to exact his “pound of flesh” from the merchant who is in his debt, was delivered with stunning drama and energy which was maintained until the curtain dropped. This was a production with a refreshing simplicity, with the company content to let the poetry of the text do the talking.

Rob Hustwayte