REVIEW ROUNDUP: Patrick Stewart, Susannah Fielding, et al. Open in Rupert Goold's Las Vegas-Set Merchant of Venice
Stewart plays Shylock and Fielding plays Portia in this production, which also features Madeline Appiah, Jamie Beamish (Launcelot Gobbo), Howard Charles (Gratiano), Scott Handy (Antonio), Aidan Kelly, Caroline Martin (Jessica), Des McAleer (Duke of Venice/Old Gobbo), Jason Morell (Arragon), David Ononokpono (Morocco), Nikesh Patel (Balthasar), Daniel Percival (Lorenzo), Emily Plumtree (Nerissa), Richard Riddell (Bassanio), Daniel Rose, Steve Toussaint, and Christopher Wright (Tubal).
The production has been designed by Tom Scutt, with lighting by Rick Fisher, music by Adam Cork, sound by Gregory Clarke, choreography by Scott Ambler and music associate and orchestrations by Alex Baranowski.
Goold's production, which sets the play in Las Vegas, has drawn a wide range of reactions from the critics, from cautiously enthusiastic to derogatory. Stewart's performance has garnered warm praise while Fielding's work is being singled out as exceptional.
Among the reviews are:
The Merchant of Venice, RSC Stratford, review
"This is director's theatre run riot, and makes his earlier productions of The Tempest, set on an arctic island, and Macbeth located in a Stalinist dictatorship, seem almost staid."
"...Patrick Stewart seems to inhabit an entirely different production from the rest of the cast, giving us a sombre and increasingly frail Jew which is intermittently impressive in its own right but seems to have little to do with the gaudy excesses of the rest of the show."
"This is certainly an unusually entertaining Merchant of Venice, but after more than three hours it begins to seem false and hollow -- just like Las Vegas itself."
The Merchant of Venice - review
"What to do with this endlessly problematic play? Directors such as Peter Zadek and David Thacker set it in the stock exchange. But Rupert Goold, as is his wont, goes for broke by transporting it wholesale to modern Las Vegas, where showbiz fantasy meets speculative capitalism; and the result is, by turns, brilliant, outrageous and excessive."
"...the whole point of this daring and innovative production is that Shakespeare's play itself takes us into an imaginary dreamscape in which reality eventually intrudes. And, although Goold's production is bound to cause argument, Las Vegas seems a perfect metaphor for a world of financial and romantic fantasy."
The Merchant of Venice, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon
"Patrick Stewart's Shylock is a casino kingpin, while Bassanio and his retinue become macho mobsters. It is a transposition that for the most part works remarkably, bringing a real sense of dynamism and energy to the play and giving it a filmic quality that has been present in much of the director's work."
"In a stand-out performance and making her RSC debut, Susannah Fielding plays her as a Southern belle forced to take part in a tacky TV game show to find a husband."
"There is a downside to this radical reading of the play - Stewart's Shylock seems strangely peripheral to much of the action. Because of this, the production will divide audiences, but is undoubtedly vital and on occasion inspired."
Review: The Merchant of Venice
"I will admit to having my doubts about Rupert Goold's vision for The Merchant of Venice as rumours started coming out about a Las Vegas setting, a Rock and Roll soundtrack and the on-stage presence of superheroes. Within minutes of entering the theatre, my concerns were dispelled and three hours of incredibly well-thought out theatre swept me along to a really original and shocking denouement."
"When you have an actor of the calibre and reputation of Patrick Stewart in the role of Shylock, it would be easy to imagine that he will dominate the production. Whilst he gives a very nuanced and powerful interpretation of the role, he is very much part of the ensemble - this generosity benefits the production as a whole. The star of the evening is the astonishing Portia of Susannah Fielding. It is hard to capture how she enriches the role with layers I never thought possible."