Friday, April 21, 2006

Review: 'The Merchant of Venice'


‘The Merchant of Venice’
United Arab Emirates University Al Multaqa Auditorium Al Ain

Ordinarily, ‘all that glisters is not gold’ but it was tonight at the Al Multaqa UAE University Social Club, where teaching staff from HCT , UAEU and Al Ain English Speaking School put together a glittering performance of Shakespeare’s comedy, ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

In the title role, Mike McPherson was loyal, generous and the perfect foil to John Rigg’s sensitive portrayal of Shylock. Mel Tyers (Gratiano), Caroline Goettsche (Jessica), Libby Stack (Portia), Ben McGrath (Lorenzo), Rick Johns (Bassanio), and Jeff Weiss (Judge), in fact the whole cast, contributed to a splendid evening’s performance that was professionally and convincingly delivered.

Jeff Weiss also directed the players and his experience learned in Vancouver, Canada, where he gained his BA in Theatre Studies showed; on and off stage, movement of the cast was exact, convincing and precise; the minutiae of all the entrances, exits, and movements was dealt with so that there were, as Jeff put it, “no empty spaces”.

From delivering a line to actually moving, Lorenzo (Ben McGrath) found that ‘on the stage, all movement is in curves; and he swept away his beloved Jessica as per directions.

Tricked in the final act of judgment, Shylock, resplendent in skull cap to mark his skullduggery, showed his dismay for all to see. Exultant in victory, Antonio’s relief was equally visible, with the devilish Gratiano rubbing salt in Shylock’s wounds with “O upright judge! Mark. O learned judge!” right in Shylock’s ear, repeating Shylock’s own comments only a moment earlier on the judge’s pronouncements, seemingly in Shylock’s favour.

Unwilling to show mercy, Shylock was arraigned by majestic Portia; “it(mercy) blesses him that gives”; he remained unblessed, stumbling at the hands of the law at the final hurdle, brandishing his knife with not a little relish before being denied his ‘pound of flesh’, Portia stating finally, “~as thou urgest justice, thou shalt have more justice than thou desir’st”.

Most pleasant contrast to the scenes in court was provided by Jessica and Lorenzo in Portia’s garden at Belmont; Shakespeare’s skill in creating images that would have stirred the audiences of the day, was beautifully and repetitively extolled with the famous lines that begin “In such a night ~”, first from Lorenzo waxing lyrical about the moon and the ‘sweet wind’ and then from Jessica, equally expressive on the events such a night would have witnessed down through the ages.

Shakespeare called this play a comedy, but a modern interpretation of the meaning of that word would have done little to mollify anyone coming to the play and expecting to be made to laugh much, but Bassanio’s (Rick Johns) joy at beholding Portia ensuring his never becoming a ‘heavy husband’ for her, was joyful; his prancing to and fro boisterous, his words joyous, and his species of ‘leapings and clappings’ perfectly and expressively executed upstage for all to see, hear and enjoy.

A very appreciative audience showed that the suspension of disbelief while being willing, was tonight totally unnecessary at this splendid evening’s entertainment.

All the proceeds of the performances were in aid of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) Doctors Without Borders, whose expressed mandate is:
To raise public awareness of the plight of the populations we treat
To raise funds for MSF missions around the world.

Let us hope the cast can be prevailed upon again soon to give us what we crave; more Shakespeare introduced to these shores.

Robert L. Fielding (Photos: Michael Rigg)


Blogger mike said...

What a delight it was for me to come across your response to my measly insignificant criticism, like a grain of sand in an oyster produces the veritable pearl, in this case unfortunately a flawed one. Firstly, my criticism was addressed to the cast, it wasn't aimed personally at you, so I wasn’t expecting a response. Secondly, your reply spends approximately 20% of the text on an unsuccessful attempt to address my criticism, while the remaining 80% appears to justify your role as a critic, which I didn’t comment on in the first place. My disapproval, short as it was, centered around points of fact, not your interpretation of the play, which in any case was minimal, or your reports of the performances given. My point was that the review was incomplete (i.e. unbalanced) since it emphasized the roles of the minor characters at the expense of the major ones, Antonio’s not being included in that category. Surely, Antonio’s role is simply a foil to the lovers’ stories and a counterpoint to the comedic aspects of the play. In the hierarchy of characters Portia and Bassanio are equally prime and Shylock is the secondary one, while Antonio comes a poor third, I would have thought. So, if this is the case, then more copy should have been given to their characters (Portia and Bassanio) surely, rather than Jessica and Lorenzo’s moonlight characters. Personal opinion, but expressed. Also, in sooth, other minor characters were not mentioned at all. As for your quote at the end of your review, I cannot but agree with Pope that critics are indeed partial to their judgment, as are authors, but I fail to see what this dictum has to do with questions of fact.

9:23 PM  

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