The Merchant of Venice

Date 12th October 2019
Society Woodchurch Players
Venue Vestry Hall, Cranbrook
Type of Production Play
Director James Hanaway and Elizabeth Fenton
Choreographer Rachel Croft-Golding


Author: Anne Lawson

A new joint venture of likeminded actors took this modern version of the play to various venues, tonight’s being performed at the interesting old building known as the Vestry Hall in Cranbrook.

Players worked in a rectangular area set against a side wall, with two lighting rigs running down either side of this playing area with the small audience seated around on three sides.  There were two exits one either end of the room, actors mainly entering and exiting through a central gap between the chairs and a narrow passage against the opposite wall.  The focal point was the two large upright suitcases doubling up as a wardrobe, a small square table, with appropriate symbolic props, a duvet and pillow directly on the floor depicting Portia’s bedroom, a large trestle table holding the all -important three caskets  – the correct one to be chosen by the lucky suitor, doubling with a polythene sheet to remove the pound of flesh from Antonio’s body!  Modern dress mainly dark with splashes of bright colour – white frocks for Portia and Nerissa for their weddings – a morning suit for one suitor, another flamboyant bright blue with feathered hat to match and wearing sunglasses. Good disguise suits for Portia and Nerissa who carried off the male stances and voices so well, with the finishing touches of the spectacles! Men wore mainly black in various forms. Antonio most distinctive with black shirt and tie, trousers and shoes wearing a reefer style topcoat buttoned and the significant black leather gloves, whilst Bassanio a policeman type tunic.

Sitting so close to a speaker I jumped more than once! Slick movement of furniture and effective props created by the team.  The Bard’s script was well interpreted by all the actors – the main players in particular,  losing a little dialogue from the ladies  at times, mainly due I think to a ‘buzzing’ on  a speaker.  Oscar ‘Rocket’ Wade created and operated both lighting and sound. A real feeling of intimacy, a feel that the audience were part of the action.  So, interesting direction from the choreographed first entry of characters, direct eye contact and hand movements in time with the music, impressive action right to the final twist.  A mammoth first half until  9.30, a huge amount of fluent action, concentration, tension, and passion from everyone, with more to follow. A very professional, neat two sides final bow.

A most convincing presentation from Mark Perrian as wealthy moneylender Shylock, scorned by others, mocked, who focuses on cruelty he suffers, but also that he commits. A very strong performance by James Hanaway as Antonio, successful ship merchant, although cash poor, agrees to help his friend Bassanio, really a romantic, to sign a bond enabling him to become the successful suitor of Portia of Belmont a wealthy heiress. Apparent losses at sea make the bond forfeited. After much intrigue, Bassanio marries Portia having chosen the correct casket. Cunning and witty Portia in her many guises is beautifully performed by Beth Fenton with Simon Tomlinson supporting as Bassanio. Victoria Jones portrayed the excellent Portia’s maid Nerissa also making a perfectly disguised Doctor’s Clerk, falls for and marries Bassanio’s friend Graziano portrayed by Steve Rogers. Charlotte Maughan-Jones became determined Shylock’s young daughter Jessica who runs off with a Christian Lorenzo, James Harper – well paired - taking with them jewels and many ducats. Furious Shylock goes to trial for the bond is broken, will not accept money but demands the pound of Antonio’s flesh. Portia overturns the trial with legalities, the two newlywed men have their rings returned having been tricked to give them up thus breaking promises, Antonio’s fleet is not lost and all’s well that ends well!  Comic relief breaking the tension came from Daisy Fermor playing Shylock’s servant Launcelot Gobbo, teaming with the great character part of old father Gobo. To all the other players of the piece a very well-prepared play using a modern approach –  mobile phones!