29/10/01 Loveday Ingram's RSC production of The Merchant of Venice has begun previews at the Pit - the Barbican's studio theatre.
The play, which has its press night on Nov. 6, will be at London until Nov. 24, after which it will go on an extensive tour, beginning at the Swan at Stratford on Avon from Nov. 28 to Jan. 19, 2002.
The production involves little in the way of props and less in the way of scenery, but - as in Shakespeare's day - uses music to convey atmosphere.
The production stars Ian Bartholemew as Shylock, with Hermione Gulliford as Portia, Paul Hickey as Bassanio, and Ian Gelder as Antonio.
The Merchant of Venice is occasionally criticized as being anti-semitic in that Shylock is a villain, but that reading of the role belongs more to the way it was played in the nineteenth century than in the present day. Shylock, after all, is given a powerful speech - "If you prick us, do we not bleed?..." - in which the common humanity of Jews and Christians is stressed and prejudice made to seem baseless.
In essence the play is about two flawed men whose misjudgement nearly destroys them: Antonio's love for Bassanio makes him agree to lend money he does not have, and therefore places himself in the power of someone (Shylock) who is his enemy, while Shylock's hatred of Antonio (partly a convenient outlet for his fury over his daughter Jessica's elopement with a Christian) turns him into a sadistic monster whose judgement becomes dangerously unbalanced.
Barbican Box Office can be reached at 020 7638 8891.
—by Paul Webb Theatrenow