The Merchant of Venice (2003): Chichester Festival Theatre
PrThe Merchant of Venice (2003)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Desmond Barrit (Shylock); Niamh Cusack (Portia); Philip Quast (Antonio).
This production ran from 11 June - 2 October, according to Theatre Record.
"At the start of Gale Edwards's fluent modern-dress production of The Merchant of Venice, a line of businessmen troop in and launch paper boats on to the water - a symbol of the venture capitalism that underlies Antonio's credit and emphasises the riskiness of his deal with Shylock. At the end of the production, the image is recalled when Philip Quast's burly, handsome Antonio disconsolately tosses another piece of paper on to the water. It's not a toy boat this time, but the letter Portia has just given him outlining the strange accident whereby three of his argosies have suddenly come to harbour bursting with riches." ~ Paul Taylor, Independent, 16 June 2003
"The location...seems puzzlingly vague: a modern plate-glass city where designer decking spans a glimmering pool. Though the action might make you think of Israel's current schisms or trials in the Hague concerning racial atrocities, it's easier to relate Alison Chitty's set to the characters' commercial avarice than Shakespeare's specifically Jewish-Christian antipathies. The background music (with Mia Soteriou supplying vocals) is intrusively sentimental too." ~ Kate Bassett, Independent on Sunday, 15 June 2003
"Patrick Robinson is an unusually likeable Bassanio" ~ Charles Spencer, "Making sense of Shylock", Daily Telegraph, 13 June 2003
"Otherwise casting is uneven with a strangely subdued performance from Patrick Robinson as Portia's suitor Bassanio" ~ John Thaxter, What's On, 18 June 2003, in Theatre Record 2003, Issue 11 - 12
"If Patrick Robinson as Portia's suitor Bassanio lacks poetic ardour, the passion is absorbed by [Desmond] Barrit's Shylock, a proud outside whose dreams of revenge end in tragedy." ~ John Thaxter, The Stage, 19 June 2003
"I liked Niamh Cusack's slinky, sexy Portia, but neither she nor Patrick Robinson's Bassanio have come to grips with his half-hidden motives. Remember: he risks all he has for Portia, but he's buying her with Antonio's money." ~ John Peter, Sunday Times, 22 June 2003
"Venice and water are the key themes at Chichester this year. Designer Alison Chitty has turned the main stage into a pool containing 9,800 litres of water, which can be covered or revealed as needed. But, although it is an innovative installation, it cannot disguise the lightweight nature of Gale Edwards's production. Each scene is played on a series of rearranged wooden islets. This is appropriate for Venice, but destructive of narrative fluidity. And, in order to cover each restructuring by the stage crew, Edwards creates a whole series of visual distractions. Some, such as the sight of Portia and Nerissa being strapped up to achieve token manhood, are undeniably interesting. But others, such as a movement in which dark-suited Venetians ring the stage perimeter, chanting 'Jew, Jew, Jew', fail to develop organically from the production itself. The main problem, for all the modern dress and watery setting, is the lack of any defined context....Fortunately, the lead performers mostly overcome the production's imprecision....Niamh Cusack is a poised, witty Portia, who is allowed one telling moment of spotlit desolation when she realises wehre the affections of Patrick Robinson's Bassanio truly lie. But it is a measure of the production's political nervousness that Portia's insultingly racist comment on the Prince of Morocco is amended to 'let all who are so gilded choose me so'. You feel throughout that Edwards has never quite grasped the nettle." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 13 June 2003
"Very wet, Venice. But the city and nearby mansion that Alison Chitty has designed for Chichester takes geographic oddity to new extremes. The stage is partly a dour, grey gymnasium, but mainly a series of paddling pools linked by wooden walkways, which stagehands dressed as lifeguards in baseball hats intermittently readjust and reconfigure." ~ Benedict Nightingale, The Times, 13 June 2003
"The suppressed homosexuality between Philip Quast's sweet Antonio and Patrick Robinson's attractive, slightly shallow Bassanio is well handled and explains why Portia (Niamh Cusack, who is a bit ordinary) wants to test her husband Bassanio's love for her." ~ Georgina Brown, Mail on Sunday, 15 June 2003, in Theatre Record 2003, Issue 11 - 12