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The weather looked threatening, but thankfully it held up and we could enjoy a night at Fort Canning Park watching SRT’s Shakespeare in the Park – Merchant of Venice.  Armed with picnic chairs and unhealthy McDonald’s grub, we found ourselves a good spot and settled down to what could be our last date night before baby no.3 arrives.

I was immediately stuck by the very modern set, all silver and industrial.  It turned out to be very versatile.  With just a few additions of key props, the same set was able to transport the audience from the open Rialto, to the courtyard of Belmont, to Shylock’s office, to the court room, and even a bar.

This production put the Merchant of Venice in a modern context and sought to show that the themes of justice, class, power and love are still as relevant today as they were in the past.  And references to modern forms of social interaction such as messaging and the use of iPads to screen Portia’s potential suitors was met with audible appreciation from the audience.

Strutting about with their mobiles – Photo taken from the SRT Website

I thought that on the whole the production was of a high standard, with seamless transitions between scenes, and key roles helmed by experienced actors.  I was especially taken by Remesh Panicker’s portrayal of Shylock.  I thought he delivered a stellar performance, giving Shylock a very human and vulnerable feel.  I’ve always had a bias towards Shylock as I feel he’s been wronged and unfairly persecuted by everyone, his stubborn demands for a pound of flesh not withstanding, and I felt this Shylock fit in with my idea of how he should be.  I liked Panicker’s delivery of Shylock’s famous speech from Act 3, scene 1 – “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”  Unlike many other presentations which usually over dramatise this portion, he delivered it almost matter-of-factly which, to me, emphasized all the more the words in the speech.

Remesh Panicker as Shylock – Photo taken from the SRT Website

There was one disappointing character though.  I felt that the supposedly comic role of Launcelout Gobbo (played by Sean Lai) fell flat.  He was neither funny nor amusing.  Sean’s diction was also a little hard to dicipher at times.  And the very random yells of “ang mo gui” at one point seemed out of place and downright strange (though this might be the fault of the script rather than the actor).

The most interesting thing for me was a new slant that I had never quite noticed in reading the play before.  In this production, Jessica (played by Krissy Jesudason) and Lorenzo’s (played by Johnson Chong) relationship seemed to be headed south, rather than being in the throes of love as I had remembered.  The comparison of their love to famous lovers in history was delivered in a sarcastic and tense manner, as if they were descending into an argument and spiraling out of love.  This was an interpretation I had never comtemplated before.  And the ending of the play further reinforced this view that Jessica almost regrets the actions she has taken as she has betrayed her father and is left with a man whom she is not completely happy with.  It was food for thought as Jon and I left the venue, and is something I’m still mulling over.

Gathering of friends in the courtyard of Belmont – Photo taken from SRT Website

Good acting, good sets, good music, good atmosphere.  You should definitely check out this run of Shakespeare in the park.  The show runs until 25 May, and tickets are available through SISTIC.

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Disclaimer: I was given tickets to review the show.  All opinions are my own.

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