SHAKESPEARE’S The Merchant Of Venice is quite a difficult play to watch. Issues of racism and anti Semitism are raised throughout and the treatment of the Jewish Merchant, Shylock, and his demise, nowadays seems degrading and awful.
A new production now on at the Globe tackles these issues head on. It is uncomfortable viewing with Shylock ridiculed, spat on and manhandled throughout and two Jews are roughed up within the opening scene.
The story of Shylock’s brutal and humiliating downfall starts with Bassanio who decides to woo the beautiful Portia. To do so he borrows money from his wealthy friend Antonio. However Antonio’s money is tied up in his ships which are at sea so Antonio in turn takes out a loan with Shylock.
Shylock demands a forfeit should Antonio not be able to repay his loan and they agree on a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Antonio agrees, so sure is he that his ships will come in.
But when Antonio hears his fleet is lost at sea and with it his fortune, Shylock demands his bond in full.
It is up to Portia, disguised as a lawyer to save the Antonio.
Jonathan Pryce puts in an incredible performance as Shylock. Indeed his famous speech of “hath not a Jew eyes” is forceful and strong but so emotionally charged that it is almost heartbreaking.
And watching his humiliation at the hands of Antonio and Bassanio and their friends is chilling, in particular Shylock’s enforced baptism when he is robbed of the one thing he holds above all else – his religion.
Despite the sadness and anger there are moments of laugh out loud humour and Jonathan Munby’s production makes the most of them.
Stand out scenes were Shylock’s servant Gobbo, played brilliantly by Stefan Adegbola who takes two groundlings out of the pit and ropes them into his own dilemma of whether or not to leave his master, and a hilarious performance by Globe regular, Christoper Logan as Aragon, one of Portia’s suitors.
Ultimately this is about one man though and Jonathan Pryce is outstanding.
The Merchant Of Venice is on at The Globe, Bankside, until June 7. Tickets from £5. Visit www.shakespearesglobe.com or call the box office on 020 7401 9919.