Last night I saw a pub theatre production of The Merchant of Venice. To get to the theatre, you must walk through a door located at the back of the pub. Directly through the door is a hostel but up the stairs is the theatre. It’s basically a black room with seats on three sides and the scenery painted on one wall. My Shakespeare professor Jean, who by the way is quite a character, claims that it is some of the best theatre in London. Much of it is undiscovered so it is quite affordable. The production left something to be desired. I liked it mainly because I like to see the words I’ve read spoken aloud and acted out. There are many homosexual and antisemitic undertones that can be played up in this play. My professor once saw a production that was set in Germany under Nazi rule. That would be very dark, but interesting. There is also a scene where Portia is choosing a suitor. There are three: the Prince of Morocco (which Portia makes a racist comment about, which of course was cut from this production), the Prince of Aaragon, and Bassanio (the merchant’s friend). There are three caskets: one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. Each suitor must choose a casket and the one who selects the correct casket gets to marry Portia. The Moroccan selects the gold casket, which is wrong and the Prince of Aaragon selects the silver casket, which is also wrong. At this point Portia knows which casket is correct and truly wants to marry Bassanio. She then gives a short speech hinting that Bassanio should choose the lead casket (the line endings rhyme with lead and she ends talking about bells, which at that time were made of lead). She delivered these lines straight forward and standing still, rather than standing by the correct casket or having much body movement. Jessica’s character was a weak actress and there was little chemistry between any of the characters. Also, their costumes looked more 19th century than anything else and the men’s boots reminded me of the gardening boots my dad wears in the yard.

Originally Published 2/18/08