Casino set model box
“Las Vegas seems the perfect metaphor for a world of financial and romantic fantasy” Michael Billington, Guardian, 20 May 2011
Designer Tom Scutt transformed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage into a Las Vegas style casino complete with fruit machines, roulette and blackjack tables. At the back of the set, a glitzy golden female figure could be seen with arms outstretched over a roulette wheel, hinting that this was a temple of vice and the gamblers its worshippers. The process of moving from designer’s concept to actual set is achieved through the showing of the designer’s model box, seen above. There is usually more than one model box per production, depending on the number of set changes. This 1:25 scale model is the basis of the detailed design drawing necessary for construction of the set.
Casino set drawing
After the showing of the designer’s model box, our draftsmen make detailed to-scale drawings of the different components that make up each set. Our Scenic Workshop, based just outside Stratford upon Avon, uses these plans to construct and decorate the set, which is installed on the stage prior to the technical rehearsals. Here we see a drawing of the main casino set which shows the position of the key onstage components from above. This would have been used for reference by the technical and stage management teams to check that the set components were correctly positioned for each performance of the show.
Director Rupert Goold in rehearsals
“The most outrageously original interpretation and re-visioning of The Merchant of Venice it is possible to imagine” Kevin Wharmby, British Theatre Guide, 2011
Director Rupert Goold is well-known for his inventive settings. His 2006 production of The Tempest, with Patrick Stewart as Prospero, took place in an Artic wilderness complete with oilskin-clad mariners. In 2011 Goold’s energetic modern-dress production of The Merchant of Venice was transposed to Las Vegas and reunited him with Patrick Stewart, this time playing Shylock, the venture capitalist who owns the casino. The parallel between capitalist speculation and gambling was also emphasized by switching the action from Venice to Las Vegas.
Onstage gambling props
After the model box showing, our props team within the Scenic Workshop have up to 12 weeks to source, make and find all the props for the show. Once the show is in production, the stage management team use prop setting plans and lists to ensure that all the props (moveable objects) are in the correct place for actors to pick up or carry on stage. Here we have an extract from the onstage props list of gambling accessories on tables and shelves that had to be in place from the start of the show. Items include piles of chips (gambling tokens), playing cards and their dispensers (card shoes), a ‘working’ smartphone, a glass of whiskey and even a “wallet with 3 credit cards and 12 $500 dollar bills (notes)”. Significantly, the unlucky gambler Antonio has an empty chip holder.
Viva Las Vegas/Venice
In Goold’s production, Lancelot Gobbo (Jamie Beamish) was transformed into an Elvis impersonator, dressed in a bejewelled white flared jumpsuit and sporting dark glasses and a large quiff. His rock and roll songs punctuated the action. Here we see him in full Elvis mode performing a routine with showgirls and a band playing ‘The Best is yet to Come’, a song made popular by Frank Sinatra in the 1960s. According to the stage manager’s rehearsal notes, as early as 2 February 2011, Rupert Goold (director), and Jamie Beamish (Lancelot Gobbo) discussed the idea that Lancelot was an Elvis impersonator
Portia as the game-show 'Destiny' hostess
Arguably the most memorable innovation by director Rupert Goold was the re-invention of Portia as a television celebrity. Wearing a blonde wig and speaking with a Southern American accent, she was both the hostess and the prize of a live television game-show called ‘Destiny’ based in the casino’s neighbouring complex ‘The Belmont’. The sound of canned audience laughter accompanied the efforts of the different suitors/contestants as they chose their caskets. This same playfulness was evident in Goold’s setting of the abduction of Shylock’s daughter during a fancy dress ball, where Lorenzo was disguised as Batman and Jessica as the Boy Wonder.
This technical drawing shows the exact dimensions of one of the three caskets used in the production, which enabled our Scenic Workshop to construct each casket. The diagram features four main components: the cube casket itself with a Perspex bottom, the frosted casket base, the podium with ‘Destiny’ debossed (indented) on it and the stepped base. The podium base had inset casters to enable the prop to be moved easily on and off stage. The drawing also shows a bird’s eye view of the whole casket contraption. In the next image we will see how this design was brought to life in the production.
The Prince of Morocco discovers his destiny
“Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire” Prince of Morocco, Act 2 Scene 7
In this image, we see how the casket design looked in production. The Prince of Morocco has become a greedy contestant on the ‘Destiny’ game-show. Wearing golden boxer shorts and with a pair of boxing gloves round his neck, this competitive character is about to choose the golden casket, much to Portia’s relief. In the stage manager’s rehearsal notes for 3 February 2011, we discover that the director (Goold) and Chris Jarman (Morocco) discussed the idea of making the Prince a professional boxer.
In this stage manager’s props listing, we can see the contents of each casket and its position on stage. The Gold casket chosen by the Prince of Morocco was placed CS (Centre Stage) and contained a gold encrusted skull with a Destiny gold card rolled up in the left eye. The Silver casket was placed SL (Stage Left) and when opened by the Prince of Aragon revealed a grotesque clown’s head with his tongue lolling on one side and a Destiny silver card. The modest looking lead casket SR (Stage Right) chosen by Bassanio contained the winner’s remote control.
Shylock on the point of revenge
Patrick Stewart’s Shylock was a prosperous casino owner, who intimidated his daughter and tormented his creditors. He could also be playful, at one point using his cane like a golf club to practise his putting. Dressed in a dark suit and carrying an attaché briefcase, he looked every inch the successful capitalist. In this dramatic production photo, he wears the traditional Jewish kippah (skullcap) and tallit katan (fringed prayer shawl) as he prepares to extract his pound of flesh from Antonio, who has forfeited his bond of $3 million (updated from the original 3,000 ducats). The stage manager’s rehearsal notes for 1 March 2011 reveal that our Armoury department was asked to provide Patrick Stewart with a blunt tipped knife for rehearsals. Antonio (Scott Handy) is wearing an orange prisoner’s uniform and has been suspended by his hands in what appears to be the prelude to a ritual killing. A wallet has been placed between his teeth as a gag.
Trial setting plan
Many reviewers found the trial scene thrilling. It was set in what appeared to be an old meat warehouse. The duke behaved like a Mafia don surrounded by his armed henchmen. Portia and Nerisssa were disguised in men’s suits. In this stage manager’s prop setting plan, we discover the onstage furniture and props used in the trial scene. The list includes ‘personal’ props, carried on the actor, like Portia’s spectacles and a jailer’s ‘Keys for All in One restraint’ for the bound Antonio. In the area marked ‘SR Vom’ (Stage Right Vomitorium), Shylock’s props include a briefcase with scales, a pistol, two bonds, a knife, a sharpener and speech. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre has two Voms, gangways that lead from the auditorium to either side of the stage. The word literally means to spew forth in Latin.
A happy ending for Portia?
“For a light wife doth make a heavy husband” Portia, Act 5 Scene 1
Just as unsettling as the trial scene was the ending of the play in Belmont. In this production photo, Portia (Susannah Fielding) finds herself sandwiched on the sofa between Antonio (Scott Handy) and Bassanio (Richard Riddell), whose relationship seems as strong as ever. The dramatic ending featured Portia, blonde wig in her hand and wearing one high-heeled shoe dancing on her own to the Elvis hit ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’. Behind the extravagant public persona, there lurked real private grief.