The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

  • Genre Drama
  • Stage Music Theatre
  • Premiere5. April 2014
  • Length3:00 hod.
  • Number of reprises30
  • Final performance11. January 2019

a disturbingly topical classic comedy

This well-known play from the great late 16th / early 17th century Elizabethan playwright is sometimes described as a romantic comedy. However, only one of the storylines corresponds to this description – the almost fairy tale story of Bassanio’s courtship and marriage to heiress Portia of Belmont. The second basic plot strand is the story of mean Jewish moneylender Shylock – who carries the germ of the tragedy of revenge in himself. Shylock, who is both hated and a hater himself, takes revenge for what he gets plenty of from his Christian fellowmen every day - their hatred and sneering contempt. A Venetian merchant, Antonio, is one of those Christians; he borrows money from Shylock so that his friend Bassanio, who has wasted all his money, can court rich Portia. Although Shylock doesn´t demand a usurious level of interest on the loan, he makes the contract with this condition: if Antonio doesn't return the money on time, he will have the right to claim a pound of flesh cut out from any part of Antonio's body. Antonio really does fail to pay the loan back on time and the moneylender is uncompromising: “The villainy you teach me, I will execute; and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.” In the play’s famous court duel, clever Portia, disguised as a judge, thinks of a legal dodge which saves Antonio and almost kills Shylock, depriving him of his property and honour in any case.

A romantic comedy and a thrilling court drama in one? It is easily possible with Shakespeare! It’s a play full of strange paradoxes and reflective thoughts, and it raises many questions. Is the Jew Shylock a bloodthirsty moneylender whose demand for a pound of flesh from the body of his adversary is an act of ruthlessness, or is he an unhappy victim of Christian hatred, a victim who is only paying his enemies back in kind and tearing down the mask of general hypocrisy? And what about beautiful and rich Portia, whose hand is offered to the one who wins it in a mysterious test involving three caskets – is she an example of the mercy and charity which she calls for from Shylock, or a tough negotiator who is able to strip a person of his dignity without blinking an eye? Why do our deeds leave such a bitter aftertaste? Shakespeare´s play is highly “politically incorrect” from today´s perspective – but against whom, actually? The role of Shylock will be played by Boleslav Polívka.

Author

  • William Shakespeare

Directed by

Assistant director

Translation

  • Jiří Josek

Dramaturgist

Music

Light direction

  • David Kachlíř

Asistent asistenta režie

  • Patrik Bořecký

Produkce

  • Zdeněk Helbich

Theatrical backdrop projections

  • Petr Hloušek, Dalibor Černák

Sound Direction

  • Milan Vorlíček

Technologická asistence scénografie

  • Lubomír Spáčil

Benátský dóže

Marocký princ

Aragonský princ

Antonio, benátský kupec

Bassanio, jeho přítel a Porciin nápadník

Salerio, Antoniův a Bassaniův přítel

Solanio, Antoniův a Bassaniův přítel

Graziano

Lorenzo, zamilovaný do Jessiky

Šajlok, bohatý Žid

Tubal, jiný Žid, Šajlokův přítel

Lancelot Gobbo, Šajlokův sluha

Starý Gobbo, Lancelotův otec

Leonardo, Bassaniův sluha

Baltazar, služebník Porcie

Stefano

Porcie, bohatá slečna

Nerissa, její komorná

Jessika, Šajlokova dcera

Benátští šlechtici, úředníci při soudním dvoře, sloužící a družina

The Merchant of Venice

Jiří P. Kříž 29. May 2014 zdroj Xantypa

Where should one start when praising Jiří Josek´s excellent translation of The Merchant of Venice? The Brno production features monologues which are omitted elsewhere, but you won´t be bored for a single second. The story of a dispute over a pound of flesh from the body of Venetian merchant Antonio as a warranty for a loan taken from the rich Jew Shylock in case the loan can’t be repaid in time has brought Boleslav Polívka back to Brno City Theatre. It was certainly he who became the most important acquisition of the production. He has already played Shylock in Hilský´s (and Feldek´s) translation and under Roman Polák´s direction at the Summer Shakespeare Festival at Prague Castle. At that time – in 2005 – the Merchant also visited the farm in Olšany which was still Bolek´s at that time. However, his new Shylock has surpassed the old Shylock in a unique way, including the part involving the Jew´s punishment for hatred – forced christening. In Brno, he is baptised like the ancient Christians were in the Jordan – by the immersion of his whole body in water. It isn´t said whether it is in a canal or in the lagoon, but people and their life stories are reflected in the waters of Venice’s Canal Grande. Odes could be composed about Polívka´s acting performance, and only those who remember his Mageri in Uhde, Štědroň and Pospíšil´s Ballad for a Bandit based on Ivan Olbracht´s work, luckily recorded forever as a film by Vladimír Sís, know that Shylock is the second Jew he has played. “Commander, Commander… Masters come and go but a person… a person stays.” Not only because of this is the character of the moneylender in The Merchant of Venice a less than dominant one. Dominance is rather the preserve of the rich heiress from Belmont, Portia, played by great Brno City Theatre personality Svetlana Janotová. Portia is perhaps the most emancipated, sharp-witted and clever woman to be found in Shakespeare´s extensive body of work, and Janotová’s performance is perfect, masterful! On top of this, there’s Zdenek Merta´s background music – a compact whole which supports the edited character of the production. In places, it evokes sweet Venezia, while at other times it accompanies the characters and their fates. Hats off to all aspects of this masterful production!

 

The story of the old dog named Shylock

Marcel Sladkowski 13. May 2014 zdroj Divadelní noviny

The involvement of a famous actor is just one of the attractions offered to theatregoers by Brno’s Merchant of Venice; another is the visually impressive stage and lighting. Scenographer Christoph Weyers has created a towering three-floor structure whose cold metal frame delimits the sides and back part of the stage. The regularity of the strictly symmetrical structure is broken up by the sometimes open blinds on each of the floors, giving a visual impression that makes reference to the fronts of Mediterranean houses and also, metaphorically, to the disruption of the order which develops the dramatic thread of the play. The Venetian setting is most obviously evoked by the area of water in front of the set pieces, which features a footbridge and islands with pavements. This setting enabled the plot to move forward dynamically when the action is taking place in the streets of Venice; these scenes stand out well in comparison with the scenes in Belmont, which are situated on an empty forestage in front of the curtain. Not even the power of Shakespearean dialogue can protect them from exhibiting a certain staticness.

The production also has to cope with the distinct typological diversity and comic stylization of its characters. This is true not only of rich Portia’s Belmont suitors (the soldierly, uncouth Moroccan prince played by Jakub Zedníček, and  Patrik Bořecký’s Aragonian prince, whom he plays with transvestite-like effeminacy) but also of the Venetians: Milan Němec and Alan Novotný in the minor roles of Salerio and Solanio perform one dialogue as a parody of TV newsreaders. Michal Isteník´s Lancelot garners deserved attention with his brilliant study of a servant with the cunning of Sgaranelle. The erotic desire of the pairs of lovers in which the females dominate their counterparts mainly thanks to their goal-directed attitude also has comic features. This is the case with the desirous but disciplined Portia (Svetlana Janotová) and her similar friend Nerissa (Eliška Skálová), but also with Shylock´s daughter Jessica, whom Andrea Březinová moves light years away from the image of an unhappy creature suppressed by a grumpy parent: her Jessica is cheekily direct and she visibly doesn´t care about the pain she causes to her father, as his only child, by running away with a Christian boy and converting to his religion.

The fact that Shylock couldn’t have imagined his daughter would act in this way corresponds with the character traits which Boleslav Polívka has imprinted into this crucial character. His old Jewish merchant perhaps once used to be a feared trader, but time is against him and it reveals weaknesses which he’d been able to hide up until now. Polívka´s Shylock knows it and therefore is as wary as a wounded dog: from time to time, he does actually growl at people, which mostly provokes great laughter from the audience. However, Shylock uses these comic overtones as intentional mimicry with which he diverts attention or also gives warning if needed. Whenever he is being foxily cunning, greasily sly or carefully evasive, he acts so in accordance with the necessity to get by in the hostile environment in which he must operate. The loss of his daughter seems to suppress Shylock´s instinct for self-preservation: he asks for a pound of flesh to be cut from the chest of Antonio (played in sadly composed fashion by Petr Štěpán) with obstinate and bitter boastfulness. It seems during the court process that he has bet everything on the risky card of revenge. Boleslav Polívka develops Shylock’s changes and ambivalence excellently, occasionally managing to incorporate aspects of the same character which he embodied in a different manner at the Summer Shakespeare Festival nine years ago within his compact performance. Polívka´s Shylock deservedly holds the attention of the audience; moreover, he is also the centre of the strongest scene of the evening when Antonio´s requirement that Shylock be christened via immersion in the waters of the canal is executed upon him immediately after he loses the court trial. The little splashing waves in the pool of water had until then served only as an idyllically pleasant yet effective element throwing the reflections of lights on the set pieces and also allowing the servants to cool their tired feet. Suddenly, Shylock is literally swallowed up by the water. He emerges half-drowned, soaked on the outside and broken inside. This simple and brutally effective scene is the climax of the production.

 

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