Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice is probably his single most problematic and often unpalatable play. With its haunting, taunting picture of racial intolerance on the one hand and an equally appalling portrait of one man's quest to exact a blood bond on the other, there's little to redeem the characters on either side.
Director Rupert Goold makes no attempt to disguise these conflicting strains; instead, he vividly contextualises and accentuates them in brutally playing them off against each other. He also implicates the audience directly by making the battle genuinely entertaining and constantly gripping. Even if you know the outcome, you can't help succumbing to a churning anxiety.
I'm never sure you are supposed to actually enjoy this sort of spectacle. But Goold's production is so bold and original that it keeps taking your breath away.
He does so by relocating it to a very specific modern day setting of Las Vegas. Here, against a backdrop of gambling machines and tables, an American-accented cast play out this ugly human drama where the quality of mercy is definitely strained. The show — and boy, does Goold know how to put on a show — includes an inevitable Elvis impersonator and a reality TV programme in which Portia is both presenter and prize, as men compete for her hand in marriage. I've never seen a casket scene quite like it.
But then I've never seen a production of this play resonate quite as powerfully before, either. Ian McDiarmid charts Shylock's disastrous pursuit of a pound of Antonio's flesh with a relentless determination that undoes him. A superb ensemble cast around him bring colour, variety and punch to this playful yet eventually poignant production.
"What should glide along with the ease of a gondola in a canal gets stuck in its own over-marinaded conceit."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"Ian McDiarmid ... is a supercilious Viennese-accented Shylock, who appraises Antonio's strung-up shuddering body with his knife like some sadistically lingering connoisseur."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Taking its cue from Elvis, the triumph of this production is that it shows there is real heartbreak in the gaudily extravagant hotels of Nevada."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"By far the most thrilling aspect of Goold’s reimagining is the character of Portia, given an outstanding performance by Susannah Fielding."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard