Review: The Merchant of Venice

Goold's Merchant gamble pays off


This RSC production's original Shylock in 2011 was played by Patrick Stewart who, before cutting his pound of flesh, covered his head with a tallit and intoned a prayer. Ah yes, that would presumably be the little-known Jewish prayer recited before killing a Christian. This time, with Ian McDiarmid in the role, the prayer shawl has been ditched, which at least reveals Shylock's revenge to be an act carried out more in his own name rather than in the name of all Jews.

In Rupert Goold's still astounding 21st century, Vegas version of Shakespeare's play, McDiarmid's Jew is a first-generation immigrant with German accent. He is a brash, peanut-popping casino owner at whose tables Scott Handy's suave Antonio gambles and loses. This is Shakespeare, but featuring as it does a Jew-hating Gobbo played by Jamie Beamish as an evangelical Elvis, and an equally unforgettable Portia played by Susannah Fielding as the southern belle prize of a TV quiz show, this is not Shakespeare as you know it.

Up close, Tom Scutt's casino design is less convincing than it was in Stratford. But Goold's vision - musicalised with Elvis classics and vulgarised by Vegas glitz - is still among the most audacious ever applied to the Bard.

Most audacious of all is the garden scene. Normally it's the play's smug finale where Christians bask in the glory of Shylock's so called merciful conversion. But here they are a dysfunctional lot embittered by their own betrayals and locked into a nightmarish and loveless future. Were Shylock to see it, he'd draw a great deal of comfort.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive