Well after all the excitement of my blog from 3rd May (Learning Me Your (Hebrew) Language) I finally got to see The Merchant of Venice on Monday night as part of The Globe’s international Globe to Globe season. Every review (and this one) I have read since has focused largely on the demonstrations and disruptions that some members of the audience created. Oh, yeah, did I not mention that the evening turned out to be a hotbed of political activism before my very eyes? The nature of the specifics of the protests can be found here, but in spite of all the police, security guards and airport style detectors, over the course of the evening several realisations became very clear to me.
1. You can never see the same play too many times.
This particular production depicted Shylock in the most humane way I have ever seen, ultimately giving me a completely different feeling about the rest of the characters, and therefore questioning the validity of their happy endings. This was an unexpected pleasure.
2. Peaceful protests can be really rather lovely.
People on opposing sides of the debate, held placards in separated areas on Bankside in the afternoon sun, smilingly handing out leaflets and playing music, demonstrating the importance of standing up for beliefs and sharing opinions with respect. It was powerful.
3. Protests lose their impact when art is disrupted.
Once inside the theatre, the outbursts and banner-unfurling became sinister. Censorship is always worrying, and the organised disruptions at regular intervals of the performance only seemed to alienate the protesters and their valid cause from the rest of the audience. It suddenly felt very important that the play continue as was summed up to loud cheers by one audience member, as he shouted “Carry on, we’re all with you!”
The play did carry on, and the professionalism of the actors was rewarded by an extended curtain call, with many of the audience getting to their feet. I felt they deserved it for their interpretation of a complex play not just for the challenges that particular performance had faced.
And as for the initial concerns that I had aired in my previous blog - those relating to understanding an evening of Hebrew Shakespeare? Well, they were completely unfounded. Even if I hadn’t been able to see the English summarised subtitles at the end of each scene, I knew exactly what was going on. This was mostly, I suspect, due to knowing the plot well, but also the visually rich interpretation that included dancing caskets, well-timed slapstick, and the most wonderfully symbolic costume for Portia that recognised the binding legalities to which she was subject, but then cunningly changed into the chains that held the arrested Antonio, and ultimately Shylock, in the dramatic court scene.
A final highlight for me was that The Globe’s Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole poked his head into the middle gallery at the interval to check we were all OK (several of the protesters had been seated in the row in front of us.) I did wonder for a second whether it would be a good opportunity to pitch my novel/script/personality at him; this could have been the only time I got the chance. In the event, he seemed a little flustered what with all the threats and metal detectors and stuff, so I let him get on.
Shame. He seemed like a nice man.