Have you ever seen Shakespeare’s lyrical prose transported to the 1920s? How about a production of Shakespeare where all of the scene changes are conducted to the theme tune of The Sting? I have. You might think that it wouldn’t work, but surprisingly, it was this unlikely combination that made the show such fun.
The Merchant of Venice is the first Shakespeare that I ever studied at school, and since it was before GCSEs, I can’t say that I was particularly committed to the cause. All the same, I had the basic premise of the story stowed away in my brain, and my love of all things 1920s (as you can maybe tell, I was a Gatsby girl in English Lit!) left me intrigued as to what this production had in store.
Held at The Grand Opera House’s Baby Grand, c21’s production of The Merchant Of Venice had only a small number of actors, with a small and simple set to complement its cast. But what this theatre company lacked in extravagant staging, they made up for with a challenging twist – a post-WW1, Roaring Twenties backdrop.
Everything about c21’s production oozed of the 1920s, from Portia’s mannerisms to her flapper-girl dress. So, how did they remain true to the story, you ask? For me, it was all in the themes.
Prior to watching the show, my understanding of Shakespeare was held almost in a time-capsule, frozen in times gone by. However, by transporting the olde world themes of the Shakespearean era to the frivolous Jazz Age, this small and dedicated cast proved that the morals of love, wealth, justice, good and evil that prevail in The Merchant of Venice will remain captivating and timeless no matter what.
Pair these sentiments with some hilarious comedic performances from Portia’s various suitors, and dialogue that dipped in and out of traditional Shakespearean just enough to cater to all audiences; and you have, in my opinion, the recipe for an engaging and refreshing play that kept the magic of Shakespeare alive.
As a final note, it might sound a little out of place in a review, but I can’t possibly comment on the theatrics without a nod to the exceedingly efficient stage hand, springing into action at the opening notes of The Sting theme to replace the set countless times. If she doesn’t hear that song in her dreams, I would be amazed!