The Merchant Of Venice was the first production by Creation Theatre Company that I saw and I loved it. Although it was meant for an Elizabethan audience in Shakespeare's original time, I believed it was a fantastic adaptation in which the actors were keen in their roles. It was interesting hearing music from this day and age fused with an old classic play, eg. Green Day and Arctic Monkeys and it mixed well.
The actors were brilliant, ***** stars for all of them, especially Antonio (Gavin Molloy) whom I found very handsome and had such an interesting way on showing emotions.
The performance was the ending highlight of year 9, as I saw it on a school trip. Brilliant actors, staging, setting and directing. These guys deserve a round of applause!
Theatre fan Lizzie (Unverified), 15/06/07
I read the reviews before we went to the play so I knew to expect a modern production of The Merchant. My two friends and I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the play: the acting, the music choices, the set, the clever use of current jokes and innuendo. It was very well done and I hope it will return next year! Isn't the sign of a great production in how much emotion it stirs, positive or negative? It is wonderful to see Shakespeare done traditionally, but it's only snobbery that won't allow room for this type of rendition.
Marisa (Unverified), 20/08/06
Creation’s key strength is their willingness to experiment with Shakespeare. On rare occasions their interpretations haven’t quite worked for me, but I’ve enjoyed watching every production nevertheless. Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Tempest are two favourites, and Merchant of Venice is right up there with them at the top.
I thought it was well conceived and very thought-provoking although for me Jessica’s story was perhaps cut too much. Lighting, sound and props were all spot on. Music was well thought out too, appropriate and varied - Beethoven, Green Day, Pussycat Dolls, Arctic Monkeys and the Satie-esque notes of the Nine Inch Nails track - to name but a few.
Simon Poole’s Shylock was probably the best portrayal of the character that I’ve seen - perhaps because of the context of this version - his disintegration in the court scene was superb. The interaction between Antonio, Bassanio, Lorenzo and Gratiano was well handled by four very talented actors, and great fun to watch too - the beat-boxing deserved its own round of applause. Amanda Haberland was excellent as always.
It’s a great pity therefore that some of the commenters below were unable to appreciate this fine production. How ironic that the attitudes of intolerance to race, religion and lack of respect for others explored in this production, and so very relevant today, should be so well reflected in these comments.
As for those who said they couldn’t understand the production, perhaps their minds were too busy closing for them to pay attention. They don’t know what they missed.
I loved it - well done all.
Jay (Unverified), 20/08/06
Where to begin? Yeah – I can see that a hot young director had decided that the text needed a good old shake to make it relevant and contemporary, but you can do that and somehow let the text survive the process. Thanks, Martin Toomer, for yr comments of 01/08/06 – but nobody really believes that companies slavishly follow the first Folio. Here, we had endless SHOUTING and mugging and incoherent narrative – at one point Shylock sold some drugs to Portia. Why? This wasn’t contextualized or explained. Had he hopped to Belmont?
The real measure of an audience’s enjoyment is its response (and its size). On a Saturday night in August (the penultimate night of the run) the audience was maybe half full. As for response: not one collective laugh, not one collective gasp, not one collective round of applause or appreciation in the whole of the first half. The only person where I was sitting who was into the show was a woman in a yellow mac who must have been a stooge or a determined return customer for she gamely joined in the cast's shouting during the FIRST casket scene. A bit obvious.
By all means modernize, but don’t insult an audience and don’t so obviously hate the text you are performing. A wasted opportunity.
Jimmy M (Unverified), 19/08/06
Wonderful setting (though some crass product placement by BMW) and very well acted. Ignore the negativity of some of the previous reviews.
With music, dance and energy, it's an extraordinary view of selfish, amoral individualism in the first half, and a shift in the second half as characters are faced with some of the consequences of their actions. The constant is racism, and Shylock's exposition of how this feels is magnificent.
RW (Unverified), 19/08/06
Creation’s Merchant of Venice has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my summer and a show I will not forget for a long time. It was Shakespeare as it should be – relevant, lively and engaging. People often forget that these plays were written to entertain the Elizabethan working classes and were certainly not intended to have the highbrow (and frankly stuffy) reputation that they have now. It saddens me that so many people still have this Victorian image of Shakespeare so ingrained that they can't accept anything other than people donning period costume and timidly reciting the text. Perhaps for some the messages of the play which were so cleverly teased out in this production just hit home a little too hard for comfort?
Ok, rant over - this has been a fantastic production, brilliantly acted, brilliantly directed - I struggle to find anything negative to say about it. Congratulations to the cast, creative and technical teams - I can't tell you how much you deserve the success you have had with this uncompromising show.
DLW (Unverified), 18/08/06
I find it hard to come up with anything positive to say about this production. The first half was the poorer of the two, and Shylock's performance was perhaps the only creditable one. Portia was a rank amateur, surrounded by clowns. I've no problem with a contemporary production, but this was kitsch, predictable and naff. What David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' had to do with anything other than nostalgia I fail to see. A ghastly mistake that I hope will not be repeated in this fine setting. There's nothing cutting edge or challenging about this work, which failed to engage with the plot's complexities. Entirely superficial, this play deserves a very poor review; I have no rose tinted spectacles through which to view it. Sorry.
MB (Unverified), 17/08/06
This play is a really tricky one. Having not read, seen or studied Merchant... before seeing Creation's interpretation last night I was a little surprised at the anti-Semitic connotations. I had been told to expect these a little, but it was still a little shocking.
Firstly I think any production that can split opinion and cause such discussion has to be a good concept.
I got the feeling that the play was its own worst enemy in trying to encompass too many modern themes, trends and social groups.
Perhaps Creation Theatre is at a difficult point, where it is still attempting to make 'arthouse' theatre; however, it is so immensely popular that it is dumbing down the content a little to appeal to a more general audience (not that appealing to a wider audience is a bad thing, it's just a shame that any of the grit should be lost).
In something like Merchant... the themes of racism could have been further explored, especially in light of the recent Israeli conflict, with a more modern twist on disgusting anti-Semitism.
The lack of continuity in the music gave the impression that the sound engineer had just put on the latest 'Now...' CD. Music can be a powerful aid to any drama. In this case, however, it was far too laboured, deliberately trying to convey one emotion or another, whilst using songs which have very little emotional substance. The use of the overplayed Gnarls Barkley for an encore completely belittled the emotional intensity of the conclusion.
The characters' visual styling in my opinion was too laboured: the 'punky' Antonio's Ramones T-shirt only served to highlight the void of musical integrity.
But then a play shouldn't be about the music... and there were countless things which were done brilliantly, and a few not so well. The problem is, perhaps, that the music was used to the detriment of a play with some of the most famous imagery in English literature.
spacy (Unverified), 16/08/06
This is a "love it or hate it" modernized play. I, personally, loved it, and so did everyone I saw it with. You cannot go to a Creation Theatre performance, and always expect a traditional rendition of Shakespeare. It was throughly enjoyable, and bloody brilliant. Despite the fact that a lot of lines were cut, it worked. The music was of great taste, and the story of The Merchant of Venice was portrayed well. I would have gone to see it again if I could. All of the actors were superb!
For this, I recommend checking reviews, if you are not open to untraditonal Shakespeare plays.
K (Unverified), 16/08/06
Love it or hate it - you'll remember this production.
Its a production of two halves - the first half being vacuous self satisfaction set to 'pop' music.
After the interval, as the production returned to Shakespear's script, the characters began to unravel as unlikeable and frightening individuals.
Setting the play as a bunch of chavs in 2006 I understood, for the first time, how the characters were damaged and greedy for money and power.
Throughly unsettling production - and memorable.
Sarah (DI User), 16/08/06
I'm going to continue to support Creation in spite of this production because they deserve it. I've seen a number of their shows, and believe this one's an unfortunate aberration (currently running Macbeth and Robin Hood are both much, much better - well worth seeing!).
But I also think Creation now need to watch their step. Wacky, pop "versions" of Shakespeare may get you talked about; but tickets aren't exactly cheap and there were a lot of empty seats when I saw The Merchant of Venice in mid-August - not a good sign. Something has gone wrong somewhere. In the programme we read details of the Director's impressive-sounding artistic CV. So why is a play of the psychological complexity of The Merchant of Venice reduced to endless, meaningless strutting drunks and a (very) jaded pop soundtrack? Only Shylock seemed to perform his role with dignity. But if this sledge-hammer comparison was the intention, I for one feel defrauded. Why are those fascinating characters played like football hooligans or problem teenagers? Nuances are annihilated; it's not just text that gets cut here.
This kind of thing is for student revues where silliness is low-risk since they are swiftly forgotten, but not for professional actors. I feel sorry for a cast who will have been in thrall to somebody's impoverished, incomplete, half-baked and ultimately frustrating "idea" of an incomparable play.
AMW (Unverified), 15/08/06
Twice a year, for the last five, we have visited Oxford to see Creation's productions, and have never been disappointed....until now. The Merchant of Venice was ghastly. Too loud, badly cut, (to the point where it was impossible to follow the plot), with strange bits of 'business' which seemed irrelevant and were not followed through, even acting that was not up to the very high standard we have come to expect from this company. Such a pity, but we will certainly not give up hope, and we confidently look forward to their winter production.
Daisy (Unverified), 14/08/06
Do as Pudds says (04/08)- go with an open mind and enjoy! The Merchant of Venice has always been my favourite Shakespeare and still is. Yes, the text is cut a lot, but this a very modern interpretation, with lots of great Indie music (relevant and well-chosen), and if you don't expect a traditional rendition, you can just enjoy this production. The setting is lovely, the acting energetic and committed and Simon Poole as Shylock gives a moving performance. Highly enjoyable.
Jane (Unverified), 13/08/06
I have seen a lot of Creation Theatre's productions, and loved them all. For the second year running, I invited my whole family up from London to enjoy an evening of Shakespeare. Unfortunately we were all thoroughly disappointed by this production, which we thought was ridiculous, and we were sad to discover that much of the original text had been cut in favour of a loud but mediocre soundtrack, and comedy dancing.
Flossie (Unverified), 13/08/06
I have recommended this to all my friends so that they will never have to see a worse play in all their lives.
I don't normally check reviews before seeing plays - I will never make this mistake again.
It does not go lower than this. I'm still cringing now. Poor poor actors- they are probably great.
If you want to see theatre as bad as it ever gets, this is your chance. I'm in shock.
ARGH (Unverified), 13/08/06
Absolutely brilliant. In fact it was so good I had to go and see it again!! The way that they adapted it to appeal to the younger generation made it fun and more interesting. The actors and actresses were superb. I would definitely go and see it for a third time!!!
Robs (Unverified), 12/08/06
I think the show was amazing. As someone who doesnt find Shakespeare the most interesting of things, it kept me watching the whole time and convinced me to see it Twice. The second time, we got hold of the casts signatures and had photos! It made it very enjoyable. I think they have a lot of guts to put together such a daring rendition of the play: including some drugs and alcohol which the older people may not enjoy but they put it across well! And I look forward to seeing the actors in further productions!
Lucex (Unverified), 12/08/06
I would like to thank Creation for putting on such an innovative version of Merchant of Venice. I loved the venue and the concept behind this production. Unfortunately I don't think it was very well directed, unless perhaps the performers were having a bad night. (I think not - as you could see there were some talented people up on that stage.)
I congratulate the actors on impressive individual performances while working in an extremely difficult and disconnected rendition of this play. I didn't enjoy it, as the whole performance made me uncomfortable. I think the idea of using "disaffected youth" is a very good parallel with the troubled love stories taking place in the play. However directing the actors to run on and off stage, mime to music videos, take on characters and images obviously lifted from popular film/tv... it seemed a lot of the characters were imitations rather than a fresh idea, and this in my opinion reduced the performance to something akin to a reality tv show, where the producers assume the audience has an attention span of 4.5 minutes and rush through important dialogue/plot so that our minds don't wander...
I look forward to seeing future CT productions as I think Oxford needs experimental theatre like this. Next time hopefully the direction will be slicker and not stifle the talent of the actors or the harmony of the setting.
NL (Unverified), 11/08/06
I saw it twice and it was incredible both times, a must see for anyone who loves Shakespeare and has the desire to see what is in my opinion the best period analogue of the Merchant of Venice in recent years.
Christoph (Unverified), 08/08/06
This was a challenging and thought provoking production performed in an imaginative and at times compelling way. As someone who was not familiar with the play i found it occasionally difficult to follow, possibly due to the editing of the original text. I felt the modern references and music were a bold way of making Shakespeare accessible to those who may not normally watch this type of theatre and a superb cast of actors served to enhance this. Powerful performances by Kezia Burrows as Portia and Antony Eden as Bassanio stood out. The setting was beautiful, the sun was shining and my thoughts were provoked, all this and some great tunes - what more can you ask for. See it before it finishes!
PS The School Summer group comments do not promote faith in the education system
Dufflets (Unverified), 07/08/06
Having read the various reviews, some of which were quite negative, I went to see this play with an open mind. I'm so glad I did, as it was a thoroughly entertaining, innovative and refreshing production.
Yes, much of the original was cut and definitely the purists would be dismissive of it, but the gist of Shakespeare's tale remained the same; love, friendship and loyalty, greed, revenge, racism, the traits and frailties of his characters remained and were portrayed admirably with a relevance to the present time.
The music was carefully thought out and very fitting, although I do agree that the half-miming sequences looked a bit awkward at times. The set was minimal but with the glorious castle as a backdrop and good use of lighting, it worked well.
This was a very energetic performance by a solid group of actors. Simon Poole, as Shylock, was very credible and some of his speeches, very touching. " Theatre lover " (22/7) and his/her group, who couldn't keep straight faces during the "doth not a Jew bleed " speech should be ashamed of themselves, as should their teacher for voicing her personal opinion in such a sweeping statement to a group of obviously impressionable students.
I loved Amanda Haberland as the sarcastic Nerissa, with her excellent use of body language. I thought Gavin Molloy as the angst-ridden Antonio, waiting for his ship to come in, had great stage presence and portrayed his anger and contempt for Shylock with credibility. Pepe Balderrama as Gratiano played the part with much energy and a style so recognisable to the youth of today. He certainly knew how to work his audience. The rest of the cast were all very good, a multi-talented bunch indeed.
As for Jenny (5/7) who described the play as puerile and walked out, you should have stayed and perhaps you would have got the message. This was the worst play you have ever seen?? Well, you need to get out more, love!
Go and see this play for yourselves. It's true, you will either love it or hate it, but you will not have seen Shakespeare like this before.
Well done to director, Gari Jones, and to Creation Theatre for having the courage to bring this production to Oxford.
Pip (Unverified), 05/08/06
I have certainly never seen Shakespeare quite like this, though to be entirely fair I have not seen as many as I should wish. I could best sum up this production by saying "Good idea, pity about the director." I'm afraid to say that Martin Toomer is mistaken if he thinks that you have to be one of the country's leading young directors to know a badly- directed play when you see one. The direction was at best clumsy and at worst inexplicable. For a start, the lines were cut so severely that I had great trouble following the plot at all, and I know it quite well. And I'm sorry, but setting the Merchant of Venice with hoodies and chavs simply does not work, because it means that half the lines have to be said sarcastically. No wonder the director had to cut so many of them. The drugs references added absolutely nothing to the play and the choreography was cringeworthy.
Nevertheless, as I said, it was a good idea. I'm all for bringing Shakespeare up to date, and I liked the clever use of mobile phones and the idea of making the caskets into a gameshow. The acting, too, was generally impressive. Gavin Molloy made an excellent Antonio, bringing out a spite and bitterness that I had not seen in the character before, and yet somehow keeping the audience's sympathy. Simon Poole's Shylock was understated but very powerful, and Amanda Haberland made a very pert Nerissa with lots of attitude. I also liked Pepe Balderrama as Gratiano, who was perhaps the best at transporting his character into the 21st century. The only one who really let the side down was Kezia Burrows' Portia who was over the top and couldn't speak her lines properly. Overall, I would say that this is a true one- off production with lots of potential, but another director could have pulled this off with a lot more style.
Monica (Unverified), 05/08/06
When I phoned up about booking tickets, I was told how the play was a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. I have to say I was not expecting this, but when I saw the play I was overwhelmed by the brilliant acting skills these young people have. The show they put on was amazing and the amount of time and effort they must have put in before the show opened deserves an award in itself. They really should pat themselves on the back.
I truly enjoyed this performance; I enjoyed watching Lorenzo (Paul Shelford)- what fantastic beat boxing and tap dancing - and what a fantastic, energenic, young and very handsome actor he is. I can tell he really enjoys performing, this young man WILL go far in life, I really enjoyed watching him. The others were all entertaing as well, especially Gratiano. Watching this ladies' man entertain and woo a few ladies in the audience was funny and really bought a smile to my face.
On this website people never comment on the actors, they always comment on the play. The actors are what make the play and they certainly did themselves proud. Truly amazing, will watch this again! Well done.
Make sure you see this - it's only on for another two weeks or so! Its worth the money!!
Candice (Unverified), 04/08/06
A truly amazing piece of work. Go with an open mind and watch Shakespeare transported to 2006. I LOVED IT.
pudds (Unverified), 04/08/06
This was one of the most interesting and fun nights out I have ever had. Having studied the Merchant of Venice I was well aware of the changes and omissions, however I still felt it was a great way to move from traditional Shakespeare to a more contemporary play. As Martin Toomer said, this play is meant to demonstrate to us what our society has become and it does do just that. Shakespeare was ahead of his time.. we can be certain that he would not want any future interpreters of his play to feel restrained by his purists' views today.
OP (Unverified), 04/08/06
3 words: A MUST SEE!
Judy (Unverified), 04/08/06
Wow! What an amazing way to show Willam Shakepeare's "The Merchant of Venice". I just loved the way the play way cleverly turned into a modern masterpeice. We had been studying the book at school, and not looking forward to seeing the play really, we all thought it would be men prancing around in tights! It was my birthday and was pouring with rain, however we still sat through the torrential downpour and loved every minute!
Gracie (Unverified), 03/08/06
Loved the general feel of this production, the relevance of the setting was strong and the whole was played with gusto by an enthusiastic cast. I did wonder if the instant link to Green Day would be apprecieated by the whole audience but it was a neat shorthand to state the productions street cred. from the start and didn't pass me by!
Issues I have are with the cuts made to the story, sometimes brought about by the size of the cast. Shylocks associates were cut from the text, which meant that he had no context in which to work, no real discussion with others of his generation. I'm afraid I missed this solidity of character. Certainly the Shylock scene that worked best for me was the 'doth not a Jew bleed' with a hoody Greek chorus made up of the rest of the cast. The Jessica story was heavily cut too, which unfortunately meant that we did not feel the quality of his loss when she leaves, furthermore, the section at the end when she and Lorenzo have a scene together made no real sense.
Anthony Eden as Bassanio was undoubtedly the star in this production, a quality performance in every sense of the word. unfortunately this meant that the play was somewhat unbalanced as Antonio looked weak and vapid by comparison. A fine performance by both Portia and Nerissa should also be mentioned, they were totally believeable and proved how close the rythms of modern rap are to that of the Shakespearian iambic pentameter!
If you are looking for a doublet and hose production forget it but as modern settings go this had a lot to offer and was well worth the ticket money!
Jane Russ (Unverified), 03/08/06
I find it hard to agree with the negative comments made about this production. Yes, it is not a traditional Shakespeare production but the year is 2006 not 1806!! It is amazing to see how a play written hundreds of years ago can have such relevence to what is going on in today's society.
I thought the actors were excellent (my only criticism would be that at times it felt like Gratiano and Nerissa were trying to upstage the other characters by trying to see who could be funnier and wanting everybody to look at them, and at times Nerissa was looking like she was waiting for her boyfriend to phone- unfortunately the play isn't about them!)
Congratulations must go to Portia and Bassanio, the handling of the text by both was excellent and for me Antony Eden (Bassanio) was the best speaker of the text I have heard for a while. Yes I agree that Simon Pooles Shylock was dignified but perhaps he could look at this fellow actors a bit more when talking to them? I only mention these petty things as it was so hard to find fault in general.
Gavin Malloy's Antonio was again excellent and very believable. The lovely relationship between Jessica and Lorenzo was so heartbreaking and emotional, played with fantastic energy by Natasha Pring and Paul Shelford (never seen such a talented man, actor singer, dancer- anything he can't do?).
All in all this is a fantastic evening bringing Shakespeare bang up to date. It was great to hear kids leaving asking their parents if they could see or read some more Shakespeare, something you rarely hear this day and age when violence, TV and other things dominate childrens lives!
Huge congrats to all involved especially the fantastic stage managwer Nicci Burton who ran the show amazingly and rightly deserved the applause she received from the grateful cast during the curtain call, (no wonder she has just won stage manager of the year award!)
Please please please ignore the negative comments and see for yourself this play which is creating a huge buzz around Oxford, I cant remember the amount of friends who have suggested I see this, to which I reply "I have... twice!!"
And if any of the cast read this: well done, fantastic show and no doubt you will agree, it is quite nice to stir a reaction out of people through the power of theatre!!!
Reg Thorpe (Unverified), 02/08/06
What a great site, it gives people the chance to review local entertainment. However some people don't seem to understand the word REVIEW. ‘For example ‘A THEATRE LOVER’ (22/07) said that her teacher said ‘Rarely, ladies and gentlemen, will you have the chance to see theatre this bad…..’ To make such comments to students is totally wrong in every sense. I always thought teachers were there to educate, not to teach their personal views. I should know: I live with one!
I ask you as well, how many plays you have seen in your, as you say, TEENAGE life? Your last comment seems to suggest you had free tickets for the show, so why would you say you would not pay, other people did pay on the night of the show, and I don't see too many of them on here! Why take notes to a play? See the play, not the notes!
MC please, at least say why! You do not say anything specific about the play. Did you stay till the end? What did you not like exactly? To quote CC ‘HORRIBLE ACTING‘, did you bother to approach the actors after the show to ask any questions of them? Lack of REGARD for the text! Do all plays have to stick to the 1st folio of the text? Do you not think Shakespeare would not have liked his plays to move with the times? Also your comment about the bad direction: are you one of the country’s leading young directors? Have you spoken to Gari Jones (the director of the show) about what he has tried to achieve with this play?
TK, again do you work in the entertainment industry? And what credentials do you have for saying it was like a naff music video? To one and all, these are my personal comments to you all, Jenny in 47 years you have never seen a bad play? I question that.
To all of you: ask yourselves this, is the play trying to show us what our society has become? This play, I feel, does just that. This could be any street in any town on any day. The research Gari and his team did before the play was extensive. It is ok to sit back and say this play in not Shakespeare as Shakespeare wrote it, but we can not stop theatre moving with the times. Please don't feel afraid to comment anyone, that’s what we are here for.
(These comments reflect the personal perspective of Martin Toomer and are not necessarily representative of the views of Creation Theatre Company)
Martin Toomer, Deputy Production Manager for the M (Unverified), 01/08/06
Creation Theatre's Merchant of Venice is dynamic and innovative. This is a risk-taking production, almost guaranteed to offend the sensibilities of 'Shakespeare snobs', with its drastic editing of the text, use of contemporary music and setting in popular youth culture.
On the whole, I felt much of it worked well: there were some great moments of physical comedy, the pace was non-stop, and the soundtrack frequently complemented the action. Admittedly, there were some flaws. The actors occasionally miming over songs felt awkward and looked worse. The decision to portray Portia as a bling-laden chav-princess seemed fine at first, but later was exposed as being at odds with the text's character, especially in the court scene.
There were some worthy performances from the actors: Gratiano had plenty of charisma and great timing; Bassanio was thoroughly believable and likeable; and Shylock showed admirable restraint and passion. But this production's strength lay in the interaction of the whole cast. It is a good piece of ensemble theatre. You will either love it or hate it, but I feel it is unjust to dismiss it. Theatre needs risk-taking shows, and Merchant of Venice certainly delivers.
PJB (Unverified), 29/07/06
This was without a doubt the worst Shakespeare production I have ever seen. How I didn't burst out laughing at some of the scenes, and the terrible acting I will never know. They should be paying people to watch this, not the other way round.
DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY!
EJ (Unverified), 28/07/06
I was in Oxford for a study holiday...we went to see it for our drama lessons....
I just loved it!!!!
Thinking about Shakespeare I'd never imagine something like that...but it was just great!!! I understood everything even if I never read the Merchant of Venice before...the music used to present the characters was just perfect!
This show made me cry, laugh,...just feel alive like nothing before!!!
Then we met the actors and they were really nice...it was one of the best nights in my life!!!!
The actors were (are) great, the play was (is) amazing,...so i went to see it a second time on my own!!
It's just a great experience for everyone!!
Matilde (Italy) (Unverified), 27/07/06
The anti-Semitic theme of Shakespeare's controversial work is intelligently interpreted by Creation Theatre, playing the old Elizabethan law of mercy against the emerging new law of selfish usury. In a fast moving play, the story frequently switches from Venice, where justice is pursued at all costs to the more merciful Belmont. The action is accompanied by a masterful mix tape that will forever endear the play to any teenager. Matt Eaton uses the hottest urban music to bring the setting from 17th Century England to today, where racial tensions are still present in Britain's ghettos. This is a deeply satisfying performance, and 'He is well paid that is well satisfied'.
Celebrated director Gari Jones gives us a Belmont of break-dancing revellers, a Pussy Cat Doll dancing heiress and a union jack flying leader of the pack in a Pete Doherty styled Antonio (Gavin Molloy). The loyal amity of Jones' Belmont invites the audience to be part of the 'hood, inspired not least by the strength of Antonio and Bassanio's friendship, played with warmth throughout the play; 'I think he only loves the world for him'. But the play belongs to profit-loving usurer Shylock. Simon Poole delivers the dark and cynical humour, untypical of any other of Shakespeare's characters, with a passion. The characters in this play are open to wide interpretation and Director Gari Jones takes full advantage of this to give the audience a roller coaster of a night. This is particularly true in the heart-rending performance of Jessica (Natasha Pring) who is torn between her loyalty to her Jewish father Shylock and the love of her life, the stunning black kilt wearing 'Christian' boy, Lorenzo (Paul Shelford). Sassy Kezia Burrows, glittering with bling, plays a girly but strong Portia, and much weight is given to the idea of determined suitor Bassanio (Antony Eden) chasing Portia for her money.
The actors' fine control of the trial scene makes even those familiar with the text feel that Antonio's going to get the whetted knife dug into his breast imminently. The 18th century 'debtors tower' looming in the background heightens the sense of the fate that can befall those who borrow money. There is caution in this tale as the otherwise merciful Portia, in the disguise of a learned lawyer, punishes Shylock's appetite for revenge heavily. Perhaps Shakespeare is revealing one of his greatest fears, that what is 'Christian' may not remain 'Christian' for long and as with the caskets, 'all that is glisters is not gold'. Darkness falls over the Saxon St George's Tower with the business at Venice now taken care of. 'How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank' at Belmont where Portia gives yet again to Bassanio who is only in a position to receive, however she asserts 'I never did repent for doing good'.
Artistic Director David Parrish has set Creation Theatre ably in motion to dig deep within this complex text to find the message of unconditional love and encourages a thrilled audience to give generously without looking for the taking. So if you leave with Gratiano's mobile number remember to tell him 'who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath.' Ay!
Lita Doolan (DI Reviewer), 27/07/06
I can understand why many people think this production is "utterly ridiculous", but the acting is extremely high class and for me the production was brave and it did work! In places you have to feel sorry for the actors miming over songs but this often works! The setting is magnificent and really works with not only the text but the way that Creation have interpreted it.
Nerissa (Amanda Haberland) was, for me, outstanding - she played her character with a fantastic sarcasm. Portia (Keiza Burrows) and Bassanio (Anthony Eden) made a great on stage pair and the section after Bassanio chooses the correct casket is very moving!
Go and see it!
Shakespeare purists may not enjoy it as we are denied much of the text - people will either love it or hate it!
SB (Unverified), 25/07/06
Quite frankly, this adaptation of the production is very different, and depending on what type of person you are, you will either love it or hate it. I thought it was great. In order to fully understand the production, you may need to previously know the story and be fully aware of youth culture. Having said that, they have done a fantastic job of making it relevant to a modern audience, with drugs, chavs, gameshows and police chases.
This adaptation helps to show that a lot of the issues written about by Shakespeare are still relevant today. In fact it made me wonder what is really happening to our society.
I really enjoyed it despite the large amounts of editing, but it might have been easier to understand with more of the original text. The barriers are broken between actors and audience and anyone in modern society will be able to relate at least to some extent.
It may be a shock to anyone who prefers traditional Shakespeare, but hey, the world's a very different place now...or is it?
AR (Unverified), 23/07/06
I saw this with my summer school group.
Oh. My. God.
Generally speaking, a school group never walks out on a production. We almost did. We didn't, because, to quote my teacher: "Rarely, ladies and gentlemen, will you have the chance to see theatre this bad. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity." It proved unwise to keep us there, however, since we couldn't keep a straight face through the second half. It's bad if you laugh through Shylock's "if you prick us, do we not bleed" monologue.
And if a group of 20 teenagers absolutely despise this (it has such a modern soundtrack), it's not good.
We described it as "post-apocalyptic", "a great anti-drug commercial. THIS is a play on drugs!" etc.
"I think they took the spark notes of Merchant of Venice, put it through a paper shredder, picked 10 of the shredded bits out, and put those 10 shredded bits to a mix-tape someone's boyfriend gave them."
"Seven days after seeing this, you die." (Reference to the movie, The Ring.)
"This makes me want to be baked into a pie. No, no - this makes me want to eat my unborn children who have been baked into a pie!" (Reference to Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus)
To say this is the worst Shakespeare you have ever seen gives it too much credit. This is the worst piece of "theatre" I have ever seen in my life.
I would pay money NOT to see this show!!!!!!!!!!!
theatre lover (Unverified), 22/07/06
Well??? Pretty negative stuff I'm reading here...
Firstly, the setting is truly fantastic and the entire Oxford Castle complex is something we should all be pleased to have as a part of our City. The stage coming right into the audience and the interaction the cast have with the crowd throughout the play is indeed enjoyable.
I'll be honest: I thought it was good entertainment. It's always interesting to see a group attempt to modernise an iconic play. It's true some bits were truly dreadful and I can't help but feel that they didn't do the courtroom scene justice, in the sense that its tension was lost with the sarcastic way in which some of the lines were delivered.
However, the sheer nerve of what they attempted should be applauded and personally I think if you are familiar with the text and have studied it, then it is worth seeing. The acting wasn't bad and there can be no argument that they worked their arses off from 7:30pm until nearly 10pm when it ended. Ultimately everyone's opinion will be different so I suggest you go and see it for yourself and make up your own mind.
7/10 A good night out in Oxford!
Richard Young (Unverified), 21/07/06
Is it just me or was Shylock played as Alan Sugar? I thought the Portia portrayal didn't work but the sense of Shylock's isolation from the superficially diverse but really homogeneous culture did. I don't think the play realy dealt with the question of what justice is and what if any justice Shylock might be entitled to.
S (Unverified), 21/07/06
This adaptation is utterly ridiculous.
mc (Unverified), 20/07/06
This was quite possibly the worst production of Shakespeare I've ever seen. Horrible acting, bad direction, and a lack of regard for Shakespeare's text.
CC (Unverified), 19/07/06
Well, I really liked it. The production we saw was without a technical flaw (see RL's review), and it made an invigorating change from the endless standard Shakespeare of an Oxford summer. I think Creation is now at the stage of a successful writer trying to produce The Second Book. They've got so successful that whatever they do, people aren't going to admit they like it. If an amateur group had done a play in this style but less successfully, they'd have got a much better press!
Admittedly, if you're any kind of a traditionalist about your drama, you'll hate the radical cuts, the modern music and the way Creation grab the story, infest it with extra subplots and make something new and different out of it. If you're like me, those are precisely the things that will excite you about it.
On the whole I thought the acting was impressive, especially the relationship between Shylock (Simon Poole) and his daughter Jessica (Natasha Pring) and the camaraderie of the three young blokes at the centre of it all. The only criticism I would make is of the way that occasionally on the big classic speeches the actors (or the director) seemed to have assumed that the louder and more unrelentingly stressed-out they sound the more effective the result will be. But this only happens once or twice, and isn't really out of keeping with the young bling high-energy vibe of the show.
One thing - there are some tacit (mimed) drug references (cf Claire A's question: "what on earth were Portia and Shylock doing with that little package?"), which, while they help to place Shylock's role in a modern context (and aid the clever way Creation have confused the moral issues of the play), may not be suitable for particularly impressionable youngsters.
miranda (Unverified), 18/07/06
I'm afraid that the previous negative reviews don't go far enough. There were almost no Shakespeare lines in it. It was just like a naff music video, but well below the level of sophistication of real music videos. Even at the level of storytelling,it was confusing. Anyone over 10 years old will be embarrassed by this production.
TK (Unverified), 18/07/06
I've only seen a few Creation productions before, and have always been very impressed by their imagination, energy and commitment to getting the message of Shakespeare across in an accessible way. And while The Merchant of Venice had all of these qualitites, it also pushed them to the extreme and in doing so, fell short.
While all the characters were well-played (particularly Simon Poole as Shylock, who gave a moving and sympathetic portrayal of a man whose world comes crashing in around him) they didn't seem 100% comfortable with the way the production had chosen to look at the story and characters.
That was the main issue for me - it was as if a decision had been made to go with a very extreme presentation, and almost force the lines to fit this vision. Particular examples were the Jessica/Lorenzo scenes, where the words that were being said sat at odds with the way they were said and the way the characters were behaving at the time.
The drastic cutting of the text also didn't help here - I was amazed when the end of the first half arrived, as it felt as if we'd had about twenty lines of text and the rest was modern song and movement. Although I did like the use of music, there was just a bit too much of it.
There were several confusing sequences (what on earth were Portia and Shylock doing with that little package?) and I left the theatre (a lovely setting but not made enough of during the play) feeling rather deflated, sad and confused. I ended up disliking most of the characters, and feeling rather more sympathy for Shylock than perhaps I should.
On the whole, a brave attempt but it didn't quite come off.
Claire A (Unverified), 17/07/06
In a fast paced and intriguing new production, Shakespeare’s tale of love, revenge and cash flow problems is brought bang up to date with game shows, drug dealing, police chases and very big sunglasses. Well known for making Shakespeare accessible to younger audiences, Creation Theatre have once again succeeded in taking a fresh look at a classic, but this time, I wonder if they haven’t gone a teensy bit too far.
Paying tribute to three decades of urban fashion, from leather kilts to fishnet tights, the visual impact made by the entrance of the cast members is undeniable. An emaciated, spiky haired, black-clad Antonio (Gavin Molloy), wearing more eyeliner than would make your mother proud, and Portia (Kezia Burrows) in faux-fur and eyebrow-raising hotpants, managed to convey a spirit of disaffected youth which surprisingly didn’t sit ill against the sixteenth century verse they were speaking.
With an enchantingly scornful Nerissa (Amanda Haberland) and buffoonish Gratiano (Pepe Balderrama), the individual performances were mostly strong, but the text had been so savagely cut that the cast had to do most of their work through visual comedy and expressions of teenage angst. Notable exceptions were Portia, who made nice work of accepting Bassanio, and Shylock (Simon Poole), whose slightly sinister restraint, giving way to genuine emotion, made him a troublingly sympathetic character. The text’s problematic undercurrent of anti-Semitism was carefully treated by director Gari Jones. Some of Shylock’s nastier speeches got the chop, but while the Union Jack-waving of Antonio and co seemed designed to highlight the injustice of the situation, they were otherwise such innocuous chaps that we were left unsure who was on the side of the angels.
This is Shakespeare at breakneck speed to a soft rock, contemporary pop and hip-hop soundtrack. Refreshing, like an ice-cube down the back of the neck, the production certainly doesn’t fail to entertain, but, in being so insistently modern and visually provocative, loses some of the depth of the delicately complex original. Well worth a visit, but requiring something of an open mind.
Susie Cogan (DI Staff), 07/07/06
What a fabulous setting for outdoor theatre the Oxford Castle is. On a warm summer's evening, actors doing their stuff amidst the grey heavy walls was very atmospheric.
Creation Theatre's Merchant of Venice gives Shakespeare's tale of antisemitism a modern twist; the actors mime to modern soundtracks; the young guns of Gratiano, Bassiano and Antonio, wear street, hip clothes. It didn't quite work; Nerissa ( Amanda Haberland) and Jessica (Natasha Pring) fell off a moped at one point; the iconic Shylock (Simon Poole) wasn't particularly memorable; Antonio (Gavin Molloy) only appeared to possess one pout to express his anger at Shylock. At the end of the evening, I was left thinking what an interesting play; shame it wasn't done a bit better.
RL (Unverified), 06/07/06
This was the worst play I have ever seen, and the first I have walked out of in 47 years of theatre going. Antonio and Bassanio played as National Front thugs and Portia a take off of Victoria Beckham! The casket scenes played as a game show and ear splitting 'music' throughout. Puerile rubbish. This is not because I am an old fuddy duddy. I have appreciated many modern productions including the National Theatre's Measure for Measure and the wonderful productions of Edward Hall's Propeller Company. What a waste of a wonderful setting and a fabulous summer evening, not to mention £20 tickets. Don't go!!!!!
Jenny (Unverified), 05/07/06
Ads by Daily Info:
Browse ads by tag:
Pictures by David Fisher
Review of the Day