Monday, 18 November 2013

Pocket Merchant

The Propeller Theatre Company is one of my favourite theatre companies.  I first saw them perform Henry V at the Marlowe a while back and was disappointed that I wasn't able to go and see Taming of the Shrew which, from all accounts, was a stupendous production.

At the weekend a group of us went to the Marlowe Studio to see the reduced version of Merchant of Venice, an hour long abridged version of their show that toured internationally a few years ago.

We got to see the final show on their autumn tour.  Photo's are press photo's I found as I don't take pictures during a show.
Propeller are an all-male company that seek to re-imagine Shakespeare, bringing the plays to life and making them relevant to today's audiences.  Pocket Merchant is the fourth installment in their Pocket series which reduces the full length plays with young audiences specifically in mind, often taking the show into schools.
Merchant was set in a prison called Venice and explores prejudice, discrimination, violence and greed.  It is a comedy, albeit an extremely dark comedy.  The action is fast paced, gripping and underscored with patriotic songs sung by the company to a beat bashed out against the iron bars of the spinning cell that serves as the central prop for the play.
Entering the studio you are confronted by the cast, dead eyed and sullen, imprisoned in the cell and awaiting the jailor to release them from their physical confinement into a new jail of their own making.  The plot is dark - Christian Antonio borrows money from the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, so his friend Bassanio can impress the wealthy Portia. A pound of flesh must be returned and time is running out for Antonio. 
There are real heart stopping moments in this production - the sequence with the eyeball is particularly gruesome and the humour is muted and uncomfortable.
Propeller's strengths have always been their ability to make the language of Shakespeare accessible and easy to understand and Merchant is no exception.  The hour flew past and afterwards the audience was invited to sit and ask the cast questions about their creative process and their interpretation of the play's themes.  This opportunity is a real pleasure and questions from the audience came thick and fast with interesting debate about the religious undertones.  I must admit that as a group we probably ended up asking about 50% of the questions - a side-effect of a bunch of people who are really interested in theatre being afforded the chance to talk theatre with professional actors. 

The tour is unfortunately over now but if you get a chance to see a Propeller production near you I strongly recommend you take advantage of the opportunity!

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