Tag Archives: CLF Art Cafe

The Merchant of Venice


CLF Art Café

The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice

CLF Art Cafe

Reviewed – 18th September 2019



“a funny, urgent and intense production, full of action and suspense”


I can’t think that there is any play so contentious and yet so regularly performed as The Merchant of Venice. Classed as a comedy and with all the Shakespearian trappings of one, it’s very difficult to understand what message we are meant to take away. Do we sympathise with the Jew (as he is so often affectionally referred to), or do we believe him to be unfeeling and unworthy of our sympathies? In short, do we consider Shylock’s humiliating downfall a happy ending, or a tragedy?

To The Elephant’s production seeks to explore the incredibly difficult conversations around racism, sexism and money as power. But regardless of their intentions, so long as the play is left unabridged (as it is), these questions can only be explored so much from a modern perspective. Instead I’m left feeling very uneasy when at the moment Shylock is stripped of his dignity along with all his worldly possessions, we are tittering at the mocking remarks made by Gratiano (Joseph Samimi) at Shylock’s expense.

The story, for those who didn’t have to study it a billion times at school, is that of Antonio (Chris Royle), an honourable and well-liked merchant, who finds himself in a financial bind and so seeks out Shylock the money lender (Atilla Akinci). Antonio and his Christian friends all share a deep disgust for Jews in general and Shylock in particular, and the feeling is reciprocated. On that basis, they strike a bizarre and bloody deal that should Antonio not come good on his loan repayment, Shylock may quite literally take “a pound of flesh”.

Under Kate Littlewood’s direction, the cast does well to inject pace and bite in to the script – an oft difficult task with ye olde Shakespeare. The subplot of Portia (Molly Moody), for example, seeking a suitor via her late father’s devising is the sort of silly scene, steeped in predictability and seventeenth-century word play, that could easily lull the audience to sleep, but Moody and Leda Douglas (playing Nerissa, her lady-in-waiting) are an excellent comedy duo, sharing knowing looks and eye-rolls whilst playing delightful hosts to the most absurd characters.

Royle’s Antonio is humble but charming; both Samini and Brian Chandrabose play Antonio’s friends, but find their comic footing in their doubled roles as Portia’s potential suitors; Sam Perry’s Lancelot Gobbo is obsequious and untrustworthy; Claire Bowman commands respect as Bassanio, and Susie Kimnell’s Solano is a loyal thug.

But Atilla Akinci’s Shylock steals the show, expressing with painful conviction the uncomfortable truths of his character. Whilst the script appears to conclude that he does indeed get his just desserts, Akinci’s performance does as much to tell us otherwise. He is certainly bitter and petty, but he is made so by his persecutors.

The design (Charlotte Henery) is simple, with no real scenery and few props, but the modern costumes set the scene aplenty, and the change of location to the theatre’s bar for the final courtroom scene gives the impression of the audience as a kind of mob, to great effect. We’re gasping and laughing as a paying chorus.

There is no doubt that Littlewood has succeeded in creating a funny, urgent and intense production, full of action and suspense. The only question lies in whether it’s time to lop off the ‘happy ending’ and allow these characters their complexities – both charming and hateful; honourable and ignoble – instead of holding on to a conclusion that strips them of their moral quandaries and leaves a modern audience feeling uneasy and confused.


Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Liviu Jipescu


The Merchant of Venice

 CLF Art Cafe until 28th September


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Side Show | ★★★½ | October 2018


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Side Show – 3.5 Stars


Side Show

CLF Art Cafe, Bussey Building

Reviewed – 3rd October 2018


“all credit must be given to Dom O’Hanlon and company for this spirited revival”


Written in 1997, and revived on Broadway in 2014, Sideshow is a relatively new musical. The score still feels fresh and demands attention, and the story’s overarching themes are both resonant and timely. The show tells the tale of the conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, real women who were born in Brighton and went on to become two of the most well-known and well-paid performers in America during the 20s and 30s. We follow their lives from their early sideshow days to the poignant moment in which they are poised to star in a Hollywood movie, and are asked to think about what it means to be different, and to reflect on the struggle for individual agency and fulfilment.

The show’s director, Dom O’Hanlon, writes that the company was ‘drawn to the Bussey Building and its alternative feel’, and it’s true that walking through the bunting-bedecked Bussey tunnel, and climbing the concrete stairs from the yard, festooned with fairy lights, couldn’t be a more perfect introduction to the sideshow spirit. Roberta Volpe’s evocative set and Adrian Jeakins’ atmospheric sound design continue the illusion; so much so that we really seem to be in the big top for the duration. Lemington Ridley’s superb costume design is also perfectly pitched throughout, and contributes enormously to our immersion in the Side Show world.

Come Look at the Freaks, the powerful opening number, sets the tone for much of the work to come. The orchestra is tight and punchy, and the ensemble singing is clear and full of theatrical energy. John Reddel’s able musical direction ensures that these qualities remain throughout, and the company work is always strong enough to loft the ball back into the air on the occasions when some of the individual performances are lacking. For the most part, Katie Beudert (Daisy) and Lauren Edwards (Violet) are terrific, and carry the story with great charisma. Beudert perfectly captures Daisy’s starry-eyed effervescence, and, in contrast, Edwards has a purity of vocal quality and control which illuminates Violet’s quieter personality. Matthew James Nicholas gives a stand-out performance as Terry Connor, and moves adroitly from boyish charm in the first Act to the passionate intensity of Private Conversation in the second. There is no doubt that he has a serious Musical Theatre career ahead. Alexander Bellinfantie (Jake) is in fine voice for The Devil You Know – Act 1’s showstopper – but, frustratingly, seems physically uncomfortable on stage throughout, and Barry O’ Reilly’s Buddy, although performed with a lot of gusto, never achieves true fullness of character. Special mention though should go to both Olga-Marie Pratt and Aloña Walsh for their truthful performances in the ensemble.

Side Show is an intriguing piece, and it is definitely refreshing to see a musical which challenges the centrality of the ubiquitous boy meets girl relationship. It is not without its flaws however; chief among them an emotionally and narratively unsatisfying ending. Pint of Wine’s production does justice to Bill Russell’s book and to the music of Henry Krieger, but it too is flawed. The choreography seems too pedestrian for the subject, and the production loses its sharpness during the dance numbers. In addition, the scene transitions involving the full company need tightening. That said, all credit must be given to Dom O’Hanlon and company for this spirited revival.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Michael Smith


Side Show

CLF Art Cafe until 13th October



Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com