The Stratford Festival has clearly outdone itself with this production. This is one of the most powerful plays I have ever seen staged – they set the story in the 1920s, so the advent of the mass murder of millions of jewish people is already looming and adds another layer to a drama that’s already ripe with prejudice and hate and the casual brush off of anyone not christian.
Add to that the riveting portrayal of Shylock by Scott Wentworth that made my hair stand on end and gave me additional food for thought and you have a perfect evening in the theatre. To think that Wentworth took on the part from Brian Bedford who fell ill in the last possible minute is just unbelievable. His portrayal of a man who – within the span of a few days – loses everything is heartstoppingly brilliant.
Because he makes us like Shylock. All of a sudden “The Jew” is no longer the hated caricature of a greedy lender. It is a man who in the course of the play not only loses all his money and his family, he also loses his reputation and will therefore very likely be losing his life as well, as the voices of Mussolini and Hitler drone on from the radio.
And all that is down to the acting abilities of Wentworth and the amazing directing of the play, and certainly not just down to Shakespeare’s words. Because Shakespeare, in his time, probably didn’t meet too many jewish people in the first place – they had been banned not only from all possible venues of earning honest money (all but money lending as it is) but also driven out of England at that point. So what was left of them was their unfamiliar beliefs and their bad reputation on which Shakespeare expertly built the story of the merciless rich man who lends money in exchange of a pound of flesh. That Shylock’s determination to get his “pound of flesh” is probably rooted in a life of abuse and prejudice, isn’t made clear in the plays words, but comes to light in Wentworth’s characterisation of the part.
There are many scenes that will stay with me for a long time (of course the court scene immediately springs to mind) but the one moment that still gives me goosebumps is when Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, is trying to enjoy a romantic evening with her husband. The night is pathetically romantic, the two lovers are as well and there’s soft music coming from the radio – they almost kiss when a speech by Mussolini distracts them. they change channels and it’s beautiful how good they are together – until the voice of Hitler rips into the soft mood.
And you just KNOW that those two are not going to survive the horrors that wait for them.
so aside from the brilliance of a Shakespearean play direction and talent worked as one to bring a very current play back onto the festival stage of Stratford,
This is a must-see play for every political person…