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BrumHour saw The Merchant of Venice at the invitation of The RSC.
By Dave Massey twitter.com/BrumHour
The Merchant of Venice with
Directed by Robin Belfield
This week, the touring production of The Merchant of Venice heads to its home in Stratford-upon-Avon from (30th September to 5th October) I was lucky enough to see First Encounter production at Nelson Mandela School in Birmingham’s Sparkbrook. Nelson Mandela School is an RSC Lead Associate School, meaning The RSC works with the school on theatre projects throughout the year.
Portia’s (Yasmin Taheir) late father has left a will with conditions about who she can marry and how. Potential men appear all played by Ray Sesay including Bassino, but Bassino doesn’t have enough money for to woo a wife and asks Antonio (Morgan Philpott) for the money. Antonio himself also needs some cash fast, but he has previously insulted Shylock (Shani Erez) and needs to grovel to get the cash loan sorted from her.
The Merchant of Venice might at first seem like an unusual choice as a Shakespeare play for 7-13 year-olds that First Encounters is aimed at. But it contains themes that are straight forward enough, money, freedom and understanding.
This 90-minute production without interval speeds along at a fair pace, and while the sentences used might not be the most practical for young people, it does mainly use words they understand. The young audience sat laughing, listening and absorbing the story. They particularly liked Ray Sesay‘s multiple roles as the suitor, as did I, his voices, posture and timing changing with each new character. Shani Erez is assured and strong as Shylock.
The is musical interludes at various points in the performance to keep younger attentions and the tour has two rotating characters Jessica and Lorenzo who in Birmingham were played by Holly Stewart and Sahib Khatkar.
The simple three-sided set, just like the production poster, has many boxes. There is one cage, which looks like the sort a hotel has for moving luggage.
Arriving at the school itself I was greeted with a huge freeze in the entrance. Adorned with shiny golden colours up both sides of the corridor wall and across the ceiling, I was impressed to see the huge effort that teaching staff and pupils must have placed in its creation.
The Merchant of Venice is at Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon at The RSC until 5th October before continuing its UK tour until 16th November. Discover more and book tickets here: rsc.org.uk/first-encounters-the-merchant-of-venice
When not writing about theatre for BrumHour, or producing Interval Theatre for Brum Radio (Tuesdays 3pm) brumradio.com/intervaltheatre,
Dave Massey can be found eating crisps and claiming to be at the gym. And tweeting about Birmingham for #BrumHour.