Last night I and my eldest daughter watched 'The Merchant of Venice', produced by the Creation Theatre, on the roof-amphitheatre of the Said Business School in Oxford.
Oxford's outdoor events have suffered a lot from the rain this Summer so, now the weather has improved, I thought I'd give them a plug. The production is excellent, with lots of music performed by the cast, and sitting outside on a Summer evening watching this fantastic play is really rather a magical experience. The venue, literally a concrete amphitheatre on the roof of the SBS gives perfect sight-lines and excellent accoustics. You can reflect as you sit there that you are on the site of Rewley Abbey...
You can book here. Or call the Box Office on 01865 766266, Monday-Saturday, 9.30am-6pm.
My daughter also recommends Midsummer Night's Dream in Wadham College this season, produced by the Oxford Shakespeare Company, which she saw earlier in the Summer.
The 'Chief Executive' James Erskine says in the programme that, with its great complexity, the play should not be over-interpreted by producers: 'it is a play that needs to breath'. This is such a relief to read. There's nothing worse than ham-fisted attempts to shoe-horn Shakespeare into some kind of GCSE-level attack on racism or colonialism or patriarchy or something. The Merchant is a work of artistic genius, and we must be allowed to appreciate all its complex levels on our own.
The theme of the Antonio and Shylock taking turns to persecute each other - Antonio, in this case, before the play starts, Shylock trying to get his own back in the play's course - has very strong parallels in other plays, most obviously, Twelfth Night with Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch, but also think about Hamlet and Laertes' conflict, or Midsummer Night's Dream, or The Tempest, and in fact many others. It is not so astonishing, or so uniquely linked to the issue of anti-semitism, as some critics appear to think. It recalls the sequence of religious persecutions experienced by many in Shakespeare's audience. When the puritans, persecuted under Mary Tudor, get the whip hand under Elizabeth, will they not seek revenge? This is basically the suggestion of Claire Asquith's Shadowplay, she has a lot more to say about it of course.