The RSC has revised the Merchant of Venice for children and will be touring the UK
In a new adaptation from the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Merchant of Venice is being brought to a fresh audience: one aged 7-13. Directed by Robin Belfield, this 'First Encounters' production has been edited into an energetic 90 minutes about the way communities of different faiths live, love and work together.
In the cultural melting pot that is 16th-century Venice, Christians and Jews exist side by side and money is king. Antonio, a Christian merchant, borrows a lump sum from Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, to give to his friend Bassanio so that he may win the hand of wealthy heiress Portia. The two businessmen already have a past fraught with distrust, so instead of charging interest, Shylock instead requests a pound of flesh from Antonio should he miss the repayment deadline. Meanwhile Shylock's daughter, Jessica, has run off and eloped with Christian boy Lorenzo, increasing Shylock's distrust of Christians even more. The events that follow test faith, loyalty and attitudes.
It is a play that has remained timely in the centuries since its birth. Some might say unfortunately, given its controversial use against Jews over time, but there's no denying that the questions it raises about tolerance and forgiveness are as resonant today as they were over 400 years ago.
Kicking off at the end of September, First Encounters: The Merchant of Venice will tour schools and theatres throughout the UK until mid-November. The cast will be partly made up of a number of young actors from the RSC’s Next Generation Company and, true to Shakespeare’s time, Shylock will be played by a woman (Shani Erez). What better way to introduce your little ’uns to the words of the Bard?
By Danielle Goldstein
First Encounters: The Merchant of Venice tours the UK Monday 23 September – Saturday 16 November. Starting with Leicestershire, followed by the Midlands, Lancashire, Tyne & Wear, Yorkshire, Cornwall, Devon and Nottinghamshire. For further details visit www.rsc.org.uk or the JR listings.