"The Still Waters Of Venice"
by Saul Reichlin for remotegoat on 05/07/19

Just off the North circular road in North London is the pretty amphi-theatre space of Garden Suburb Theatre’s current season, with this production running in repertoire with Our Country’s Good. (Buy one, get one half price).
The peaceful, verdant setting gives little sense of the city, indeed unintended sound effects include birds and the occasional dog. A butterfly even landed on actors’ heads at times! But this is the Venice that gave the world the name, Ghetto, and where Jews were as hated and persecuted as anywhere else. Sadly, absent here is any sense of the virulent anti-Semitic prejudice intended by the playwright in this great play.
Director Diana Bromley’s production eschews virtually any sense of anti-Semitic feeling among the Christian citizenry of the city. Indeed, had not Shylock uttered the damning words, ‘You call me… cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gaberdine… and foot me as you would a stranger cur…’, one might indeed have thought, from the events as played out here, that Shylock asked for everything he got, in an unprovoked and unreasonable hatred of Christians.
Ms Bromley says in her programme notes: ‘Why this play? We haven’t done it for a long time…it is a play about anti-Semitism’. Well, not until the court scene, where Shylock, pushed to revenge, brought about by the hatred and contempt he faced on a daily basis, gives the opening for the relish with which he is dealt. But even here, his attempt to kill Antonio in a sudden burst of rage, is grossly misleading, not to found in Shakespeare, and subject to being guilty of blaming of ‘The Jew’ for his own misfortunes.
As to the production itself, it is beautifully costumed and lit, and there are some valiant attempts, vocally and physically, to handle the enormous (30m wide) stage, with long distances to walk to get on and off. Once on, Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe, as Antonio, delivers a confident, and confidence-giving performance. Geoff Prutton was enjoyable, extracting good, gentle comedy, both as both Launcelot Gobbo and as the Prince Of Aragon, and Blue Beasley was comically watchable as The Prince Of Morocco, although that was partly because he seemed about to stab himself in the unmentionables with his scimitar. Naomi Smallwood is charming and attractive as Portia, (if a little unsteady on her high heels on the grass) and commanding in her role-reversal judge.

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