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August 19, 2014

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What theater reviewers are saying about ‘Merchant of Venice’

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Royal Shakespeare Company

This is “The Merchant of Venice”? It is, in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production, which puts the play in Las Vegas. Shylock’s servant, Launcelot Gobbo, fancies himself as an Elvis impersonator and sings “Viva Las Vegas” in the opening scene.

Whether they loved it or hated it, theater reviewers had plenty to say about the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest take on “The Merchant of Venice,” playing in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The production has been taken from its traditional Italian setting and recast in modern-day Las Vegas. There are showgirls, an Elvis impersonator and slot machines. Shylock’s occupation is ambiguous, but Patrick Stewart, who plays the part, says to consider the moneylender a developer. High-ranking Venetians, meanwhile, transform into mobsters.

Some critics thought the reinvention was brilliant, others a stretch. Here’s what some of London’s leading reviewers had to say about the new setting:

      The Guardian

      “Rupert Goold, as is his wont, goes for broke by transporting it wholesale to modern Las Vegas, where showbiz fantasy meets speculative capitalism; and the result is, by turns, brilliant, outrageous and excessive ... It becomes a vision of the American nightmare; but the whole point of this daring and innovative production is that Shakespeare’s play itself takes us into an imaginary dreamscape in which reality eventually intrudes. And, although Goold’s production is bound to cause argument, Las Vegas seems a perfect metaphor for a world of financial and romantic fantasy.” (Full story)

      The Telegraph

      “Those who like their Shakespeare to be staged with a degree of respect and even reverence will undoubtedly baulk at Rupert Goold’s astonishing ‘Merchant of Venice.’ This is director’s theatre run riot, and makes his earlier productions of ‘The Tempest,’ set on an arctic island, and ‘Macbeth’ located in a Stalinist dictatorship, seem almost staid ... This is certainly an unusually entertaining ‘Merchant of Venice,’ but after more than three hours it begins to seem false and hollow — just like Las Vegas itself.” (Full story)

      The Times

      “Forget Venice, this is Vegas: casino tables, foxy croupiers, wide boys and waistcoats. And who is this, striding downstage in tight white silk, singing ‘Viva Las Vegas?’ Why, it is Elvis himself, who throughout the night ... will work his way determinedly through his back catalogue. Rupert Goold’s determination to conflate modern casino capitalism and the old Rialto knows no bounds ... The result is an evening of extreme entertainment laced with moral horror.”

      The Independent

      “This production goes for broke in yanking the proceedings to a Las Vegas casino, surmounted by a logo depicting a micro-skirted hostess with her arms outstretched like a come-hither venal parody of the crucifixion. Few non-fully criminal places on earth could expose Christian superiority about money more vividly than this glittering excrescence in the Nevada desert. Scott Handy’s excellent Antonio, a gay professional bachelor, sits lost in thought of Bassanio while around him the gaming tables pullulate with life ... The production is an audacious gamble that largely pays off.” (Full story)

      The Stage

      “Kicking off with a big song and dance number and transforming Gobbo into an Elvis tribute act, the production embraces its theme with no small amount of relish. Patrick Stewart’s Shylock is a casino kingpin, while Bassanio and his retinue become macho mobsters. It is a transposition that for the most part works remarkably, bringing a real sense of dynamism and energy to the play and giving it a filmic quality that has been present in much of the director’s work.” (Full story)

      The Daily Mail

      “His production of ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ is a waste of time and talent, a silly, ugly take on an unpleasant play ... The RSC’s left-wing artistic director, Michael Boyd, perhaps thought this blizzard of innovation might alleviate the nastiness of the script’s anti-Jewishness (as it unavoidably feels today). In fact, by hauling it into some sort of faux-modern age, it only makes it worse because it deprives the Jew-bashing of a historical context ... Mr. Goold’s play is as worthless as fool’s gold.” (Full story)

      Theater News Online

      “Purists hoping for a classic ‘Merchant’ will be disappointed as well as agog at the audacity with which the play’s conventions are changed. But this is one ‘Merchant of Vegas’ they will never forget.” (Full story)

      WhatsOnStage.com

      “I will admit to having my doubts about Rupert Goold’s vision for ‘The Merchant of Venice’ as rumours started coming out about a Las Vegas setting, a rock and roll soundtrack and the onstage presence of superheroes. Within minutes of entering the theatre, my concerns were dispelled and three hours of incredibly well-thought out theatre swept me along to a really original and shocking denouement.” (Full story)

      All About Jewish Theater

      “I wonder did director Rupert Goold check out ‘Jewish Vegas’ when he decided that Shakespeare’s Shylock would be one of the Jews relocating to Vegas? For Goold’s account of Vegas is a much less welcoming place ... Go and see this for the daring of the concept and the glitzy fun of its execution ... But don’t expect to be tempted to relocate to Goold’s Vegas.” (Full story)

      The Express

      “Set in the gaudy environment of a Las Vegas casino, this is a Merchant for the era of bling and bad-boy bankers ... An illuminating, vivid and troubling production that will doubtless alienate almost as many as it satisfies.” (Full story)

      The Spectator

      “As you enter the auditorium, the cast are already engrossed in slot machines, poker, blackjack and glitzy showbiz entertainment. I spent a week in Vegas last summer, so I know how it goes. In fact, all that’s missing from Rupert Goold’s spectacular production is a mini Eiffel Tower and the magnificent fountains of the Bellagio ... This ‘Merchant of Venice’ is as flashy and entertaining as Elvis, Cher, and Donny & Marie combined.” (Full story)

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