Poster for The Merchant of Venice 2015
Polly Findlay’s production opened at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in May 2015, part of the season of plays set in Venice which explored what it is like to be an outsider. The production was notable for Johannes Schütz’s reflective set dominated by a pendulum and the imaginative casting of the Palestinian actor Makram J. Khoury as Shylock. This poster shows three piviotal characters: Shylock (Makram J. Khoury), Portia (Patsy Ferran) and Antonio (Jamie Ballard). Director Polly Findlay chose a modern setting, complemented by Anette Guther’s contemporary costumes, to highlight the play’s relevance for today.
Director Polly Findlay
“Polly Findlay’s mesmerising and revelatory exploration of the darkest crevices” Stephen Collins, BritishTheatre.com
Polly Findlay made her RSC directorial debut with her 2014 production of Arden of Faversham. A former child actor, she played Thea in Tim Supple’s 1995 production of Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind, at the Pit, London. This photo shows Polly Findlay in rehearsals for the 2015 production of The Merchant of Venice. She was keen to emphasize the underlying sadness and suffering at the heart of the drama, which composer Marc Tritschler echoed in his evocative choral score.
A mock-up of the stage design
Here we see a ‘bauprobe’ (mock-up) of Johannes Schütz’s stage design created by the production team to test the visual and technical aspects of the design. The white floor and backdrop became the reflective surface in production. At the back of the stage, a pendulum swings while a suspended box in the foreground represents one of the caskets in Belmont. The exciting design, particularly the swinging pendulum, helped to create an intense atmosphere and remind us that time was running out for Antonio.
Bassanio contemplates the caskets
“Johannes Schütz’s design – a huge gold wall at the back of a bare stage in front of which a giant silver ball swings like a pendulum – looks like a giant executive toy” Susannah Clapp, Guardian, 31 May 2015
In this production photo, we see how Johannes Schütz’s stage design has been brought vibrantly to life with Peter Mumford’s lighting adding brilliance to the mirrored surfaces. The plain white box of the bauprobe, seen in the previous image, has been transformed into the lead casket which Bassanio chooses to win Portia’s hand in marriage. The production was very sparing in the use of props so the caskets were lowered towards the stage from above. The actors remained seated either side of the stage even when they were not part of the action because the director Polly Findlay wanted to maintain a high level of energy throughout.
Antonio, Bassanio and Shylock negotiate the bond
“Three thousands ducats for three months and Antonio bound” Shylock, Act 1 Scene 3
One of the revelations of the production was Jamie Ballard’s compelling performance as Antonio. His demonstrative love for Bassanio was passionate and devoted. In this production photo, Antonio, Bassanio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) and Shylock (Makram J. Khoury) discuss the terms of the bond to finance Bassanio’s expedition to Belmont. Making his debut with the company, Makram J. Khoury approached the role of Shylock as “a simple man trying to make a living…very protective towards his daughter and his community”.
Portia in rehearsal
“Upon the rack. Bassanio? Then confess
What treason there is mingled with your love” Portia, Act 3 Scene 2
This image shows the production’s Portia, Patsy Ferran, rehearsing a scene in glittering Belmont. Reviewers noted that she was a lively and unusual Portia who behaved “as if her whole body were on springs as she listens” Susannah Clapp, Guardian, 31 May 2015. Director Polly Findlay gave Patsy the buzz words “romantic comedy” and “Elizabeth I’ to help her bring the complex character of Portia to life. In the climactic trial scene, Portia, disguised a male lawyer, seemed to be pursuing her own revenge on the feckless Bassanio as much as outwitting Shylock and saving Antonio. Find out more about Patsy Ferran’s approach to the role of Portia and her pathway to Shakespeare.
Set position for the trial
“Shylock, there’s thrice thy money offered thee” Portia, Act 4 Scene 1
Here we see a photo of the set position of the trial scene in Act 4 Scene 2, used as a reference by the production and stage management teams. The sparse furniture includes a chair, a tall table with a pair of scales and banknotes strewn across the floor. These props are reflected in a golden glow on the back wall thanks to the lighting and mirrored surfaces. In the next image, we see how this setting looked in production.
Justice is served
“For as thou urgest justice, be assured
Thou shall have justice, more than thou desired.” Portia, Act 4 Scene 1
This production photo of the trial scene shows Shylock (Makram J, Khoury), a seated and bare-chested Antonio (Jamie Ballard) and Portia (Patsy Ferran) in male disguise, at the table with the scales. The tension mounted as an outwardly calm Shylock sharpened his knife on his the sole of his shoe. The unlucky Antonio shivered and shook as he anticipated his fate. Saved by the quick-wittedness of Portia and his fortunes restored, Antonio remained a solitary figure at the end of the play, providing a corrective to the usual happy ending.