Doubtless many students navigate in Lancaster using the castle as a landmark, but how many of you have been inside? Are you aware this historic building plays host to prisoners, a crown court, guided tours and the theatre?
The Merchant of Venice
A preview, performed on Tuesday 23rd February, proved that the castle’s old stone walls form an effective shelter against the cold, and the brilliance with which this tale was enacted! The play is a promenade, where the change of scene is accomplished by the producer guiding the audience from one location to another within the castle.
The play does not remain faithful in every aspect, 17th Century garb is exchanged for 18th Century, and necessity dictates that one “stage” accommodates several settings. However, where this change of “stage”/setting forces a location to be re-used a canny device has been adopted to subconsciously inform the viewer of their relocation.
A product of the unusual stage is that the audience is more intimately connected to the actors, which appears to result in continual performances from the cast, whilst they remain in view. The actors thus respond, not only to the events which unfold “centre stage”, but also to those on the periphery. I found this rather pleasing, but I can imagine others may not be so enamoured by the constant desire to gaze around them in order to observe the reactions displayed by the characters in response to the events that unfold.
It is lamentable that only Shylock earns the disdain of the audience, because the quality with which the actor plays his part is truly convincing, almost to the point where you might be prepared to think ill of the man and not the character.
The Merchant of Venice is a Shakespearean comedy with subtle humour aplenty, combined with some more blatant jokes which are only enhanced by the actors. A particular source of additional humour in this rendition is provided by the character of Launcelot, whose scenes are a brilliant interlude to the main plot.
The principle protagonists, Bassanio and Portia, develop not only a convincing attraction to one another, but also with the help of the music and lighting something approaching a deeper fondness. Portia in particular seems to have a sparkle in her eye during the scene where she fools Bassanio as to the present owner of the ring she gifted him.
I have only one strange complaint against the portrayal of Antonio, played by Arthur Bostrum. This actor once upon a time played the policeman Crabtree in the BBC’s ‘Allo ‘Allo! Which has an unusual effect, as more than one member of the audience commented, of making you constantly anticipate the misspoken words; “Good Moaning.”
If any real fault may be found in this theatrical version of The Merchant of Venice I believe it would be the price; £21 for weekday showings (Monday to Thursday) and £23 for weekend (Friday and Saturday) shows is comparatively expensive. However, such ‘extortion’ may be explained by the exclusivity of the performance, which, thanks to the castle itself, allows only 60 guests to form the audience. When this is considered in light of the brilliant performances, the settings, the music, and the overall experience the price suddenly seems a little less significant.
If popularity were the sole measure of success, this would be very successful indeed, before this went to press only a handful of tickets remained unsold!