Out of the smokey, dingey darkness emerge a group of characters trapped somewhere in a 1920s depression. This is a cut throat world of endless repetitions and driving beats. Its a world of contradictions – one which is both dangerously fast and painfully slow; where love and ruin happen in the blink of an eye; where the law is both an ass and steadfastly true. Order and chaos sit side by side. Figures hide in the shadows, danger and surprise seems to lurk around every corner. Even the traditional carnival has a chilling edge, hinting at a dystopian world where human and animal behaviour align.
Lazarus Theatres Merchant of Venice may have stripped down the text but in no way does it feel pared down. Shakespeare’s tale of revenge, money, prejudice and love is here told within a brooding atmosphere through images and movement. Its striking, pacey and visceral. Several of the ensemble moments are blistering in their intensity, especially in the intimate space of the Brockley Jack, drawing the audience in as if we too were perpetrators of the tale. If there is a gripe its against this rich and detailed backdrop some of the characterisation feels somewhat thinly drawn.
If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
The final, unexpected, image sticks in the mind (not least because of historical echoes), but like the play itself its one that asks as many uncomfortable questions as it answers. A reflection of Shylocks persecution to come or a purging? And if the
latter a purging of what? – his need for revenge or his Jewishness?
Not one for the purists perhaps, but definitely one that sticks in the mind.
(the comprehensive Lazarus rehearsal blog (day by day) can be found here…well worth a look and read).