Mike Levy, who runs Heritage Arts and who is working with our Performing Arts students (The Opus Theatre Group) on their Holocaust Memorial Day project, attended the first night of The Merchant of Venice and has written this review:
In lesser hands, a very physical Merchant of Venice might have meant a loss of meaning, a blurring of Shakespeare’s text. Happily this was not to be. The six actors in the Opus Theatre Group proved that this powerful story of love, greed, hatred and deception can be told in many different, and exciting ways. Part of this was in the bold vision of director Wendy Frost who judiciously cut the text and added in many wonderful layers of music and stage pictures.
The talented cast was in total control of the many changes of costume and setting (simple but effective use of coloured cubes and some well-chosen props) and displayed an admirable fluidity and controlled energy. Their quick changes of costume, sometimes fully in front of the audience, never an easy thing to do even for professional actors, were done with confidence and total commitment.
Individual performances were spot on and it would be unfair to single out any individual actors. That said, Alex Spooner was quite outstanding as Portia. She totally caught that difficult tightrope balance between the character as a powerless woman and that of the stronger, nay liberated, lawyer, the wife. Not only was her delivery crystal clear, but one could tell that she was living the part. This is an actor with huge promise.
Ben Thurbon was excellent as Shylock, the Jew – hunched and weighed down by the hatred against him – his gait, manner and delivery spoke volumes of a man more wronged than doing wrong. It was a very intelligent and mature reading of one of the theatre’s most difficult roles.
Praise also is due to Tom Thurbon as the suitor Bassanio who supports his friend Antonio in that whole business of the pound of flesh. Again this was a portrayal of great subtlety and nuance. He also displayed great talent in doubling up for the clownish part of the French unsuccessful claimant to Portia’s hand – hilariously done.
Kate Gardiner was terrific as Antonio, spitting hatred against Shylock and brought low in the loss of his ships and hence the threatened removal of his heart. Antonio’s dignified acceptance of the court’s judgement was convincingly done – again not at all easy to get right.
The great strength of this troupe is its strength in depth. Thus Alix Lawrence as Lorenzo and Robyn Keleher as Jessica – both also playing many other characters – again displayed an energetic talent and ability to hold the audience’s attention in their grip.
As a first night, the whole cast and production team deserve a huge pat on the back for creating a piece of authentic Shakespeare, a very difficult play, that certainly kept this reviewer on the edge of his seat. There was not a moment when the energy levels of the cast flagged – even when they were getting ready for the next scene. The only suggestion one can make to improve the show, is to ensure that words are not swallowed or thrown away, which happened on one or two occasions.
That apart, this is a production for which all involved can be proud. A striking, visual Merchant but one with real heart and emotion. You can’t ask for more than that.