Open-air Summer Show
Distinctive amateur drama
in Northampton since 1932
Registered Charity No. 294848
The Merchant of Venice
by William Shakespeare
A scene from The Merchant of Venice
Production No. 354
Memories came flooding back when I saw The Merchant of Venice at Abington Park because it was in this play that I played my first part with the old Drama Club (now the Masque) 59 years ago, in 1948, and at the same venue.
Not only that, but one member of the theatre had seen me in the production nearly 60 years ago. That was Alison Dunmore, who was only prevented from taking part in the 1948 production of The Merchant by the fact that she was heavily pregnant.
To make my evening complete it really was a splendid production by Patricia Coleman, imaginative without being gimmicky and bringing out the essence of the play instead of imposing outside theories on it.
Shylock, of course, is the key character and Richard Walker gave a shattering performance which in its masterly understatement and authenticity was far more effective than heavy heavy histrionics.
I was very impressed by the quiet dignity of Rob Kendall's Antonio which made the play a real tussle between two protagonists instead of the one-sided contest it so often is.
Rachel Bedford's Portia was cool and self-confident, an authentic rich lady intellectual, the sort who would storm the bastions of male privilege in the 19th and 20th centuries. This made the final humiliation of Shylock even more effective, for he was not merely vanquished by a trick but by an intelligence greater than his own. She was well-matched by Jeremy Smith's manly and energetic Bassanio.
Space forbids discussing more characters but I must make mention of Barry Dougall and Barry Hillman as the two Gobbos. Shakespeare's clowns are a hard task with a modern audience - in The Art of Coarse Acting I wrote something like this: "If you see someone on stage in a Shakespeare comedy who nobody laughs at then that's the clown." But the two Barrys proved me completely wrong, in this production at least, and along with the rest of the audience I found myself laughing heartily.
Owing to various commitments and illness it was the first production I'd seen for some time and thanks to all the company for making it such a happy return. It was a lovely evening.
Incidentally, I played the Duke of Aragon (doubling clerk) in 1948. I can say without any hesitation that Ian Spilby's performance in the part was miles better than my own! A little comic gem indeed.
26 July - 4 August 2007 at 7.30pm (except Sun 29 July)
In the open-air in the courtyard of Abington Park Museum, Northampton
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