JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE MERCHANT OF VENICE at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 1.8.15.
THANKS TO THE weather, it’s been a rough voyage for this year’s Bard In The Botanics production of The Merchant of Venice; almost as rough as the one that sees the wreck of all Antonio’s ships, and helps shape the plot of this most complex and ambivalent Shakespeare comedy.
So it’s good to report – on this last weekend of the Bard In The Botanics festival – that Gordon Barr’s fine production finally brings a rich dramatic cargo home, after a few rocky moments and brushes with danger. Dressed in 1930’s clothes, and punctuated by 1930’s smart-set cabaret songs, the production at first seems a shade uncertain about its approach to the blatant racism, anti-Semitism and arrogance of the show’s young, gilded Christian characters; the heroine Portia’s foreign suitors are mocked relentlessly, and without apparent remorse.
The show has a fine, understated Shylock in Kirk Bage, though, and a magnificently complex Portia in Nicole Cooper. And by the end – as the skies darken over the gardens – we’re left in no doubt about the rottenness that underpins the elegant froth of the play’s romance; not only the brutal destruction of the Jew, whose daughter closes the play with the infinitely haunting sound of an old Hebrew lament, but the lies and silence surrounding the hero Bassanio’s relationship with Antonio, which as the play’s final tableau suggests, make a mockery of the marriage vows between men and women, and turn them into a poor substitute for a bond that is both more powerful, and infinitely corrupted by the secrecy and hypocrisy that surrounds it.
Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, final performance tonight.