Six pack with taste for wit

18th April 1997 at 01:00
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE Compass Theatre, touring

Compass Theatre director Neil Sissons presupposes a thorough working knowledge of The Merchant of Venice - well, why else have Shylock and Lorenzo played by the same actor in virtually the same clothes?

Staging the play with just six actors, some of whom play three roles, takes lashings of courage and deserves a hearty cheer but there are moments of dire confusion - who is the guy in the overcoat? I'm not sure until he opens his mouth. A final dress rehearsal in front of an invited audience of suitably cynical 15-year-olds would have proved instructive.

The actors are attired as if for a Coward cocktail party. They deliver their lines with admirable clarity and a measure of wit when a light touch is required. Their exchanges are pleasingly intimate and detailed, but static moments give an uneven and ponderous look. Sarah Finch's playing of Portia offers a ray of intelligent insight.

The production steers a middle course throughout, never too extreme, never too judgmental. It leaves audiences to do most of the thinking but rests on the viewpoint that Shakespeare abhorred rigid, absolute attitudes and much preferred compromise and understanding.

So, a reasonable interpretation, instructive but hardly very exciting.

Tour details: 0114 2755328

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