In its third season, Pop-up Globe projects the robust confidence of a well-oiled machine with The Merchant of Venice triumphantly displaying all the qualities that have made the venture so successful.
The production achieves a fine balance between rigorous academic research into the Shakespearean tradition and the sheer joy of entertaining a diverse audience who are thrust into an intimate physical relationship with the players due to the marvellous configuration of the venue.
Director David Lawrence shows Shakespeare's most controversial work is not only about anti-Semitism. The production sets up a vigorous juxtaposition between comedy and tragedy which reveals how Shakespeare is able to imaginatively identify with both the perpetrators and victims of racial and religious bigotry.
The casual cruelty of the Elizabethan era contempt for Jews is starkly revealed in all its viciousness but the portrayal of Shylock emphatically demonstrates how Shakespeare is both of his time and ahead of it. This owes a lot to Peter Daube's superb performance, presenting Shylock as a sophisticated, witty and passionate man who clearly articulates how his ruthless impulse for revenge is a response to the way society treats him — "… since I am a dog beware my fangs".
Daube's performance finds an impressive counterpoint in Patrick Griffin's sparkling portrayal of a feisty, lovestruck Portia and the naturalness of his acting allows the audience to forget the cross-gender casting.
The exuberantly theatrical staging provides plenty of opportunity for minor characters to shine and Josh Cramond playing Gratiano as an endearingly laddish lager-lout, makes effective use of the newly installed groundling's bar.
It is gratifying to see the production drawing on the comedy inherent in the script and the wildly energetic ensemble work wins enormous laughs without relying on the often over-used slippage into modern colloquialisms.
What: The Merchant of Venice
Where and when: Pop-up Globe, Ellerslie Racecourse until March 29
Reviewer: Paul Simei-Barton