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The Merchant of Venice review at Royal Lyceum Edinburgh

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Gutsy and up-front, Mark Thomson’s new production of the Merchant of Venice for the Royal Lyceum makes no concession to modern sensibilities in its use of Shakespeare’s lines. His Venice, portrayed in Gregory Smith’s superb set as being caught in the corner between two towering mirrored office block walls, is a society complacent in its own wealth and in its casual anti-Semitism.

Which is not to say that Thomson either condones or seeks to explain this society. Rather, by setting the play in a time which is assuredly now and a place which is clearly here, he draws an explicit line to our world where political intolerance, albeit of a slightly different shade, is once again causing a society to become consumed by its on hypocrisy.

The vileness these Venetians articulate is highlighted by a near perfect set of excellent performances from the 17-strong cast. They speak the lines with such clarity that it is impossible not to understand. In particular, Jimmy Chisholm as Shylock, Liam Brennan as Bassino, Neil McKinven as Antonio and Neve McIntosh as Portia all create thoroughly satisfying and complex characters.

The comedy is well played, too. Steven McNicoll’s Gratiano is a verbose sidekick and Mark McDonnell’s Gobbo a garrulous chancer. In the suitors scenes, Christopher John Hall (Morocco) and Harry Smith (Arragon) bring understanding and great humour to their roles. This, with lighting by Chris Davey that itself transforms the set between Venice and Belmont, ensures a smooth and entertaining framework in which Thomson can state his unpalatable truths.

Production Information

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, September 23-October 21

William Shakespeare
Mark Thomson
Royal Lyceum Theatre Company
Jimmy Chisholm, Liam Brennan, Neve McIntosh, Neil McKinven, Suzanne Donaldson, Christopher John Hall, Harry Smith
Running time
2hrs 40mins

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