“I will not hear thee speak; I’ll have my bond”
Following the exceptional Rupert Goold/RSC adaptation which played the Almeida over Christmas, it seemed a brave decision for the Globe to also lead their 2015 season with The Merchant of Venice but Jonathan Munby’s production proves to be just as revelatory, albeit in a completely different way. With Jonathan Pryce making his debut here at this venue, accompanied by his daughter Phoebe no less, it is no surprise that his beautifully realised Shylock is at the heart of the show here but it is also good to see Jessica (played by Pryce junior, natch) also take her turn in the spotlight.
In some ways, this echoes the Al Pacino version, showing us how Jessica is cruelly caught in the middle – torn between duty to her father and her Jewish faith, and the delight that a genuine love match with Ben Lamb’s Christian Lorenzo brings to her life. This conflict is fiercely felt – she argues ferociously in Yiddish with her father but there’s no doubting the haunting anguish of the production’s end, her Hebrew lament powerfully affecting as Shylock faces yet another disgrace as we’re reminded that – even if she has shunned him – it is still a familial bond being sundered here.
And as Shylock, Pryce is just superb – sombrely understated but intriguingly complex, he is a completely natural stage presence that is just mesmerising to watch. Playing the persecuted victim, he provokes a shocking degree of violence about his person but lest we sympathise too much, he’s instantly tyrannical once behind closed doors. As his hubris is allowed full rein in the courtroom, we know that pride must come before a fall but the ending here is just flawless, an interpretation that sears itself onto the memory and makes you question how the play has ever worked before.
By comparison (both with Pryces, and with the Almeida), Belmont is less interesting. Rachel Pickup is strong as a vicious and vicarious Portia and the traditional broad comedy of the Globe comes from the suitors aiming for her hand. But even as we’re shown that her love for Bassanio is doomed (Daniel Lapaine also shining here), the interest is always more piqued as by the likes of David Sturzaker’s Gratiano and Dominic Mafham’s Antonio, and of course, Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce’s stellar turns as an achingly moving father and daughter.