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!