Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
We’re not yet comfortable on our bench when the Globe’s stage — bare yet imposing — becomes animated with period costumes, music and dance. Within seconds Jonathan Mumby’s classic take on The Merchant of Venice has transported us back to Shakespearian Italy.
The plot, as ever, is tangled as Venice’s alleyways: Bassanio, needing money to become suitor to the beautiful Portia, asks his friend Antonio for a loan. Antonio, a merchant of Venice, approaches usurer Shylock, promising that all-famous pound of flesh, should he not pay back the debt in time.
All attention is drawn to Shylock, embodied by Jonathan Pryce. The complex character is at once the avaricious moneylender, the authoritative father and — in the very end — the man who loses everything, even his own faith. Pryce’s trick is to embody these varied aspects of the self-same character, making the audience’s feelings about him anything but straightforward. We feel angry at the beginning when he imposes his authority upon his daughter Jessica, yet by the end, feel pity and even compassion for the man. Such talent has been an influence on Pryce’s real-life daughter Phoebe, who embodies Jessica on stage with some skill.
Though Pryce is priceless, plaudits must go to Rachel Pickup who plays a sharp, charming and humorous Portia. Less exciting is the acting of Bassanio, embodied by Daniel Lapaine, who struggles to make his mark on the stage.
The Merchant of Venice is about more than just the three caskets and the pound of flesh; it’s an intricate, timeless play about anti-Semitism, love, friendship, and eventually, justice. This is not an easy gig to pull off, and without Pryce, it’s hard to imagine the production would do so.