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REVIEW: Merchant of Venice

ShakeSoc, from the University of Exeter, brought The Merchant of Venice to Stratford
ShakeSoc, from the University of Exeter, brought The Merchant of Venice to Stratford

Jennifer Lane reviews The Merchant of Venice by ShakeSoc, University of Exeter, at Stratford ArtsHouse, June 2016

An amateur university group bringing a play to Shakespeare’s hometown and RSC heartland demonstrates no mean feat of courage. It’s fair to say that with The Merchant of Venice, ShakeSoc’s gamble definitely paid off.

The show was extremely polished for a student production while the actors and directing team (including Stratford natives Henry Edwards and Lily Roberts) had clearly taken time to decipher the many levels of meaning in Shakespeare’s layered text. Resultantly, the play was delivered very well, if perhaps a little fast at times.

Stand outs definitely include Andrew Sharpe as a convincingly grasping Shylock (the accent was a nice touch although occasionally a little difficult to understand) and Nick Pippin as Launcelot Gobbo, who performed the more minor character with the panache and talent of a lead. It must be said though that as a whole, the cast demonstrated great comic timing and brilliant engagement with the comedic elements of the play. Little touches here and there, such as Shylock’s meticulous preparation for the taking of his bond or Antonio’s avid viewing (complete with a bag of Doritos) of his friends falling foul of their wives were very amusing and both cast and crew should be congratulated for maximising the opportunities for humour.

In terms of setting, updating Shakespeare to the modern day – set in the city, heart of finance, complete with suits, desks, raincoats and the like really worked well. The minimalist set had clearly been carefully thought out and was integrated brilliantly into the various locations and parts of the play; a kind of set master key if you will.

Overall, the show was carefully put together, cleverly thought through and intelligently acted and hopefully ShakeSoc will return to Stratford next year with another great offering.

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