British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database
The Merchant of Venice (1984): Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
PrThe Merchant of Venice (1984)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Adam Bareham (Bassanio); Ian McDiarmid (Shylock); Christopher Ravenscroft (Antonio); Amanda Root (Jessica); Frances Tomelty (Portia).
This production had its original press night on 10 April 1984 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
"As one enters the theatre, one is greeted by two towering baroque organs suggestive less of the Adriatic than of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The stage, meanwhile, is surrounded by the sumptuous, plum red patterened curtains and the floor festooned with cushions indicating the bedding department of an Istanbul emporium. And when we get to Belmont the three caskets swing through the air on the end of vast prehensile cranes like movie microphone booms....My objection to all this is that it does almost nothing to evoke the authentic Venetian commercial world which is crucial to an understanding of the play...Otherwise the Christians, all looking as if they have come from a touring production of Carmen seem interchangeably unpleasant and some of the juicier small parts (with the exception of Josette Simon's striking Nerissa) go for less than they are worth." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 11 April 1984
"The gilded youth of the play wear costumes covered with spangles, each sparkling like a ballroom globe. More striking yet are Portia's three caskets, each as tall as a man and suspended high aloft on giant mechanical arms. Looking like funerary urns, they are mysteriously lowered as required, whereupon they speak, then ascend to teeter uncertainly high above, with a precarious wobble. After this it is not surprising to discover that Nerissa (Josette Simon) is black, that Launcelot Gobbo (Brian Parr) is a hunchback who can talk like a little girl, or that the two great organs can move in a circle so that their backs represent Shylock's house - or that he wears a dunce's cap." ~ John Barber, "A spectacular Shylock", Daily Telegraph, 11 April 1984
"Worst among the principals is Frances Tomelty's Portia, a confident, insensitive bachelor girl who begins by making gleefully malicious fun of her suitors, and finally takes vengeful pleasure in making Bassanio squirm over the lost ring. Anything less like a woman in love or a girl reluctantly bound to the will of a dead father it would be hard to imagine. The production adds to the distortion in the Morocco scene where Portia, after triumphantly declaring 'Let all of his complexion choose me so', goes out affectionately, arm in arm with her black Nerissa (Josette Simon)." ~ Irving Wardle, "Melancholy is not enough", The Times, 12 April 1984
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