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Mark Shenton views the week of news, openings & radical overhauls of Shakespeare in the West End, Broadway & beyond

In Awards, Broadway, Features, London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews, Ticket recommendations, Touring by Mark ShentonLeave a Comment

Mark Shenton offers the week’s news, reviews, quotes and tweets in theatre from both sides of the Atlantic, including an interview with Sonia Friedman, reviews of Shakespeare in three different abbreviated versions, and a YouTube star appearing on Broadway.

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‘Puzzling, moving, clever & humane’: THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM – West End ★★★★★

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Libby PurvesLeave a Comment

In The Height Of The Storm, faultlessly directed by Jonathan Kent, the strangeness and pathos are extreme. Because though indeed Jonathan Pryce’s patriarch is in rising dementia, and Eileen Atkins his living – or dead – wife, the theme above all is love: settled, interdependent, half-century devotion.

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NEWS: Amanda Drew, Lucy Cohu & Anna Madeley will join the cast of Florian Zeller’s The Height of the Storm

In London theatre, Native, News, Plays, Press Releases, Regional theatre, Ticket recommendations by Press ReleasesLeave a Comment

Amanda Drew, Lucy Cohu and Patrick Melrose star Anna Madeley will join star of screen and stage Jonathan Pryce and three-time Olivier Award-winning Eileen Atkins in the UK premiere of new family drama The Height of the Storm by Florian Zeller, at Wyndham’s Theatre from Tuesday 2 October.

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Year in Review: Vicky Anderson’s top 5 Liverpool shows of 2016

In Features, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Touring by Vicky AndersonLeave a Comment

Two fantastic things to happen this year included making it on to Radio 4’s Front Row programme to review the Everyman’s The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! (which was so deliciously complex I nearly made this a top six); the other was becoming part of the fantastic My Theatre Mates, the online network set up by leading theatre critics Terri Paddock and Mark Shenton.

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NEWS: Kneehigh comes to the Globe in Emma Rice’s first season

In London theatre, Native, News, Plays, Press Releases by Press ReleasesLeave a Comment

Shakespeare’s Globe is delighted to announce Emma Rice’s inaugural season as Artistic Director. The 2016 Wonder Season will open with A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Saturday 30 April, followed by The Taming of the Shrew, Macbeth, 946 The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips and Imogen. Jonathan Munby’s The Merchant of Venice, starring Jonathan Pryce, will open at the Liverpool Playhouse, …

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE – Shakespeare’s Globe

In London theatre, Plays, Reviews by Matt MerrittLeave a Comment

You could be forgiven, if you didn’t know The Merchant of Venice well, for believing it to be a tragedy and more so for thinking Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s most caricature villains. Thankfully, Jonathan Munby directs with flair, amping up the comedy without losing even a hint of pathos in what may already be the highlight of Shakespeare’s Globe’s summer season.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE – Shakespeare’s Globe

In London theatre, Plays, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Shakespeare’s Globe, London
*****
Written by William ShakespeareDirected by Jonathan Munby

Phoebe Pryce and Jonathan Pryce
Jonathan Munby’s production of The Merchant Of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe is likely to prove a long remembered classic. The staging offers an interaction with the groundlings that defines the raison d’être of this remarkable venue and with some of the Bard’s finest verse bestowed upon both Shylock and Portia, Jonathan Pryce and Rachel Pickup respectively provide a masterclass in English poetry. 
It can be all too easy to forget that The Merchant Of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Munby’s production however makes much wonderfully timed merriment, with Stefan Adegbola’s Launcelot Gobbo putting on a class act that is as much Vaudeville stand up as it is classic Elizabethan drama. Elsewhere, David Sturzaker’s drunken Gratiano and Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Nerissa make for excellent comic foils.
The design of both costume and stage is gorgeous. The dress is of the period, with the Venetian masked Carnevale a prominent theme. Designer Mike Britton’s Belmont is suggested magnificently by drapes of burnished gauze that billow in the Southwark breeze, cleverly catching the light and evoking a modest understatement to the wealth of Portia’s estate 
So much for the hilarity, there is heartbreak too – and in the most complex of parent-child dilemmas, Pryce wrestles with the demands of his Jewish faith as daughter Jessica spurns both father and tradition for her gentile lover, Ben Lamb’s Lorenzo. That Jessica is played by Pryce’s real life daughter Phoebe (who eschewing any whiff of nepotistic stunt-casting, more than earns her stripes) only adds to the moments of emotional devastation hurled at us. 
Much too is made of Bassanio’s bisexuality as Daniel Lapaine and Dominic Mafham’s Antonio the eponymous Merchant, make frequent references to their past love. Away from the comedy again, Munby spotlights Portia’s anguish as she comes to realise her new husband’s sexual history, making for another neat and credible shot of pain.
Throughout, Munby’s work is nothing short of visionary. His Princes of Morroco and Arragon (Scott Karim and Christopher Logan respectively) are stereotyped caricatures – indeed Karim’s Arabic creation could be straight out of Disney’s Aladdin. But Munby knows just when to ease off too. Whilst his Princes may be buffoons, there is no hint of grotesque Jewish caricature to Shylock, with the director letting the evil of the play’s prejudice speak for itself.
Whilst Shakespeare’s original English text is respected, Munby takes brave linguistic licence elsewhere. Shylock and Jessica converse in Yiddish behind closed doors, whilst a devastating epilogue sees the now proselytised Jewess lament in Hebrew, whilst her father is subject to the full baptismal onslaught of a Catholic Latin liturgy.
But the heartbeat of this production lies in its devastating depiction of racist hatred. Shylock speaks of having been and is, spat upon. The courtroom scene is imbued with a lynch-mob menace that bays for the Jew’s blood. Whilst his desire for murderous vengeance can never be condoned, this production more than most, speaks clearly of the lifetime of abuse that the old money-lender has endured.
In what is likely to prove one of the capital’s stand out Shakespeare plays of the year, Pryce’s performance dominates and devastates. We share the pain of his yelp as his skullcap is brutally removed, realising more than anything else that the prejudices of 17th century Venice were barely different from those of Hitler’s Berlin in the 1930s. And when we read today of the barbarity wreaked upon Iraq’s Yazidis and upon many of Africa’s Christian communities, we can only weep at Shakespeare’s timeless wisdom.

Runs until 7th June
Image by Manuel Harlan