12th to 22nd November 2008 (10 performances)

41 Monkgate 

Charles Hutchinson in the The Press wrote:

The Merchant Of Venice has left the sinister shadows and dark backwaters of 16th century Venice for the Edwardian era.

York Shakespeare Project director Cecily Boys gives us the garden-party suits and the big hats (boaters, straw hats, peaked caps et al) of the Belle Epoque, but she also invites “more sober assessments that recognise the immense chasm between the wealthy and the poor”.

Shakespeare’s most troublesome play, she reasons, revolves around money and prejudice (as well as justice and mercy, others would add), and those factors prevailed in Edwardian times. The unspoken inference is that they still pervade today in credit-crunched Britain.

Once that Edwardian milieu has been established, with pretty music on the balcony by the Belmont Piano Trio and singer Anna Edgington, followed by a bustling opening street scene, Boys tells the tale clearly, without undue adornment.

Costumes play a significant part in defining character, against the plain backdrop of the black box theatre at Trinity Hall, Monkgate, and the focus is on the characterisation, character interaction and storytelling. In a community company, such as YSP, where budgets are tight, this is unquestionably the pragmatic decision.

It means that young talents such as Grace Bird’s Portia and Robbie Swale, as her suitor Bassanio, can blossom in one of Shakespeare’s most difficult works.

Bird’s Portia has a gilded playfulness as she conducts the lottery – a game of box-opening rather more challenging than Deal Or No Deal? – to win her hand, before the severity of her belittling of Shylock in the court-case centrepiece.

Ged Murray’s Shylock, the Jewish money lender demanding his pound of flesh, is more northern grafter than stereotypical Jew, remorseless and restless in his righteous protest, his wit dried up by overwhelming prejudice.

Brian Sharp’s austere merchant, Antonio, stands out for sustained intensity; Paul Toy’s cameo as a vain suitor, the Prince of Arragon, rivals Matthew Pattison’s sweet-dispensing clown, Launcelot Gobbo, for comic impact.

After the wedding to end what Boys calls “a comedy that goes wrong”, her sobering production concludes with the most beautiful of mournful songs by Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, sung from the heart by Katy Sharp. Time for reflection indeed.

Cast

Antonio, a merchant of Venice Brian Sharp
Bassanio, his friend and suitor to Portia Robbie Swale
Solanio, their friend David Hartshorne
Salerio, their friend Jon Hughes
Graziano, their friend David Kendra
Lorenzo, in love with Jessica Izaak Cainer
Leonardo, servant to Bassanio Neil Standish
Servant to Antonio Carys Hartshorne
Portia, an heiress, of Belmont Grace Bird
Nerissa, her waiting-woman Alexandra Darlington
Stephano, servant to Portia Alan Flower
Serving Woman Elaine Innes
Casket Bearers Richard Easterbrook,
Julia Atkinson,
Mike Foster / Alistair Carr
Shylock, a Jew Ged Murray
Jessica, his daughter Katy Sharp
Tubal, a Jew, Shylock’s friend Jeremy Muldowney
Launcelot Gobbo, a clown, servant to Shylock Matthew Pattison
Old Gobbo, his father Richard Easterbrook
Prince of Morocco, suitor to Portia Pulak Sahay
Morrocco’s Train Vicki Hill, Anna Edgington
Prince of Arragon, suitor to Portia Paul Toy
Arragon’s Train Alan Flower, Glyn Morrow / Jamie Searle
Duke of Venice Roger Took
Clerk of Court Glyn Morrow / Jamie Searle
Gaoler Mike Foster / Alistair Carr
Italian Ladies Vicki Hill, Anna Edgington

Crew

Director Cecily Boys
Musical Director Jon Hughes
The Belmont Piano Trio: Virginia Rousiamani (Piano)
Hannah Gibbs (’Cello)
Anna Goldbeck-Wood (Violin)
                     With Anna Edgington (Voice)
Lighting Fergus McGlynn, Benedict Rowe, Joe Mills
Stage Manager Jeremy Muldowney
Assistant Stage Management Adam Baldwin, Rosalind Campbell, Paul Shephard
Dramaturge Julia Atkinson
Costumes Vicki Hill, Jane Collis, Zoe Groves, Harriet Boys
Make Up Naomi Benjamin
Hair Rachel Thwaite
Poster Andy Curry
Images Cecily Boys, Adam Baldwin, Brian Sharp
Matthew Pattison, Rosalind Campbell
Programme Brian Sharp
Front of House Raymond Baggaley, Anna Sharp,
and many friends of the Project