The play is the ribald old dog of the bard’s canon, hammed masterfully up by a cast and crew too numerous for me to namecheck them all, as much as I would love to.Standout then, was Lloyd Houston as Antonio, as jocular as the others when times are good, convincingly terrified when times turn bad. I feel that Shylock nowadays needs to evoke a small amount of pity in the face of all the venetians’ barbs and Barney Fishwick elicits this well. The greater part of the entertainment in the first two acts happens at Belmont, where Portia and Nerissa welcome suitors for Portia’s hand. The Princes of Morocco and Arragon are as hilarious as they ought to be, and Hannah Gilksten ably shows why Portia is still one of the best female roles on the stage. Connie Greenfield is as funny a Nerissa as I’ve seen, which is no mean feat, and while I’m at it Jack Sain’s physical humour adds a lot to Lancelot Gobbo.
You might expect as much from a group of Oxford students doing Shakespeare though. What takes this production over the top, to new heights, summits, the end of the rainbow and other superlatives is the unusual quality of direction, production, setting, costumes and music that take what would have been a decent performance on a bare stage and make it something truly special. Anna Koch, Lucinda Dawkins, Claudia King and the rest of their team (would that I could make the list longer) are enviably assisted by the stunning location. But the timing, the fact that the girls especially look incredible, and so many other little touches are too many and delightfully surprising to mention (except that I can’t not mention the musical contributions of Wezi Elliot and Rosalind Isaacs and Hannah Moore’s choreography), cannot simply be chalked up to a pretty backdrop.Pack a blanket. Cancel your plans. Go.