The National Youth Theatre have ‘done it’ again, with their stellar production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. An inspiring piece of theatre with a modern twist that challenges us to really engage with this material, this is truly a Shakespeare classic reimagined for the modern audience, all the while whilst remaining true to the language and jargon that is so typical of William Shakespeare.
The National Youth Theatre has long been a hub of creativity and opportunity for the youth of the UK, from inside of London or otherwise, and the REP season is a highlight every year. This year’s REP seasons consists of three performances, Wuthering Heights, The Merchant of Venice and Consensual, NYT’s theatrical statement about ‘sexting’ and consent in the modern age.
The Ambassadors Theatre is a beautiful and prestigious venue to host Merchant, which opens with a high energy that doesn’t quit until the final curtain. A simplistic set allows us to really focus on the brilliant acting, although I loved the artistic decision to have roller blinds as the backdrop to the performance. Every now and again, the roller blinds would open and close to allow us to view a chorus of actors perched behind them patiently, wearing Venetian masks and observing the onstage drama. I thought this use of the chorus was particularly effective – just as we were constructing our own opinions on the play, so was the gaggle of Venetian mask-wearing actors, who occasionally thumped out a beat or sang a chorus-style song to complement the dynamics of the action onstage.
Some real stand-out comedy turns come from Melissa Taylor, playing Nerissa, and Paris Campbell as the Prince of Morocco, both of whom had the audience laughing for all the right reasons whenever they were on stage – both ladies warm and engaging. The most hilarious performance came from Lauren Lyle, depicting the Prince of Arragon; a naturally talented actress whose physicality, accent and comedic timing literally had the audience in stitches – certainly one to watch.
The second half was more dramatic than the first, and whenever the unfolding drama was in danger of becoming a touch too serious, there was an infusion of comedy to keep us absorbed in this glorious modern adaptation. It’s worth noting the use of unusual audio to accompany the production added a welcome facet to the overall picture – from aboriginal percussion, to an ethereal wall of sound, to a One Direction track, the music had been meticulously thought out, just as every other facet of the production had – from the gloomy yet effective lighting, to the minimalistic yet fitting set.
As an audience we left uplifted and moved, and Prince Edward, a patron of the NYT, was spotted in the audience too, enjoying the bright young talent just as the rest of us were. There is surely a bright future in performance for the talented cast of The Merchant of Venice, and NYT can rest safe in the knowledge that they’ve yet again produced another inspirational and important piece of theatre.
Review by Louise Amelia Czupich
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The Merchant of Venice
If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?
Shakespeare’s iconic tale of prejudice, justice and mercy is set against austerity and immigration in Tom Stoppard’s specially commissioned abridgement, exploring the laws of society and how far your heritage dictates your destiny.
In modern Venice, where austerity prevails for all but those at the top, Portia a wealthy heiress is looking for a suitor. Bassanio borrows money from Antonio to finance his attempt to win her over. Antonio in turn, takes a loan out from the moneylender Shylock. When the contract is broken, racial tensions boil over in electrifying courtroom scenes, where Shakespeare’s most unforgettable outcast demands his pound of flesh.
The Merchant of Venice
National Youth Theatre
West Street, London, WC2H 9ND
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Show Opened: 29th September 2015
Booking Until: 2nd December 2015
Evenings: Tuesday 7.30pm
Matinees: Monday to Wednesday and Friday