Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is a comedy full of contradictions: loyalty and betrayal, fairy tale and harsh reality, gaiety and tragedy, love as a moving force and money as a moving force, too.
As the story goes, Bassanio – a young man in Venice – wants to woo Portia, a rich heiress – and is asking his wealthy friend Antonio to lend him three thousand ducats. Antonio has invested all his money in his fleet, so he turns to Shylock – a Jewish money lender – asking him for a loan. Shylock has consistently felt marginalized in the Christian world in which he lives, and has repeatedly been humiliated even by Antonio himself; he agrees, however, to lend him the money he wants – demanding however no less than a pound of his flesh, in case that the full amount is not returned on time.
In The Merchant of Venice, money is referred to in every scene; money needed, money borrowed, money accumulated, money stolen, money offered, money in waiting. Shylock’s terms are exhausting, but isn’t that always the case with money lenders? All this discussion about money – and the lack of it – may ring a bell in the minds of Athenian spectators in these times of financial hardship; easy connections and associations are not, however, Spyros Evaggelatos’ directing style.
Evaggelatos, one of the most experienced and productive Greek theatre directors, proves himself a meticulous reader of the Shakesperean comedy, which he treats with respect. His is a classic staging of a classic play, without any surprises. One of the strengths of the show is definitely Nikitas Tsakiroglou’s Shylock.
Tsakiroglou succeeds in making a memorable performance of the greedy and vengeful money lender. He rightly portrays Shylock as both a demon and a victim of exclusion and injustice, which is the source of his deep-rooted hatred. Maria Skoula as Portia and Tzini Papadopoulou as Nerissa successfully bring onstage the energy, the freshness, the playfulness and the gaiety of two young women who need to love and to be loved. Thanassis Kourlampas, otherwise an actor of quality and standing, lacks the comic acumen that is needed for the role of the garrulous and frivolous Gratiano.
The scenes with Portia’s suitors selecting one of the three caskets seem to fall short of expectations; the acting of both the Prince of Morocco (Gerasimos Skafidas) and the Prince of Aragon (Yorgos Psychogios) is often exaggerated and the comic devices employed are old fashioned and rather ineffective. This is also the case with the short appearance of Old Gobbo, Launcelot’s father, whose continuous and frequently unnecessary movement onstage becomes occasionally tiring.
The set – designed by Yorgos Patsas – although functional, looks outdated and tired, while the most distinct feature of the costumes – designed by Yannis Metzikof – is the Hebrew or Latin lettering on the characters’ capes, according to their religion, visually denoting the clash between the two worlds.
All in all, this is a performance pleasant to watch and a staging that does justice to the Shakespearean play; the one thing that it lacks is sufficient energy.