The Merchant of Venice

An extraordinary logistical display of theatre sees The Merchant of Venice taken out onto the streets of Barking; by the people, for the people.

The group dances were a highlight in exhibiting the community spirit within and around this event.

Backed by Arts Council England and the Major of London among others, Studio 3 Arts assemble celebrities, local actors, volunteers and dance schools in order to tour Barking Town Centre in the hunt for Shylock’s pound of flesh. The project conceived seven years ago has involved around 400 people from start to finish.

The central racial theme was well-chosen for the multi-cultural borough and uses a diverse cast to share its timeless message of tolerance and the cautionary tale of a dark and segregated history.

Lucy Dixon and Marc Bannerman headline as Portia and Shylock. Dixon has the acts the ditzy reality celebrity in her ‘FAIR Portia TV’ show as she seeks a husband, but triumphs in one of Shakespeare’s most notable scenes in the final act (which takes place inside the town’s actual Council Chamber). Bannerman was largely the straight guy, as befits the gravity of the role and had very few localised script alterations or winks to the audience. Both had excellent projection for an almost entirely outdoor production.

The group dances were a highlight in exhibiting the community spirit within and around this event. It was a mixture of amateurs and dance schools, with all ages represented. The street party in Venetian Barking saw performers pull surprised audience members into the melee. A hip-hop slant to the choreography from Jade Hackett added to the broader appeal that the creators of this project were striving for. References to the local ASDA, roads and rival areas were understandable and well-intended. If it weren’t for the family atmosphere it might have seemed cheap, but was on the whole quite fun.

A special mention goes to William Frazer for his power and enthusiasm as Launcelot. Despite his speeches being a little overwritten, he was an arresting presence and one to watch in the future.

The play is well-packed coming in at around two and a half hours. It maintains all the Shakespearean core and therefore serves as a decent standalone reproduction. However when you adorn this structure with the open air (many of The Bard’s Venetian scenes are set in streets), local municipal buildings, smiling, dancing children and bright costumes it becomes almost interactive. Some of the promenading was a bit unnecessary for the fuss it causes and the flow is interrupted by the important, but distracting volunteer stewards during moves. For a construct so complex it was very enjoyable, especially for the locals for whom the in-jokes and environs had most resonance. The ambition and benevolence of the experience can’t be faulted.

Reviews by George Meixner

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The Blurb

Studio 3 Arts is proud to announce their summer production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice adapted by writer Ashley Joseph.

In a celebrity driven, Internet world full of selfies and hashtags, a wealthy heiress is looking for a husband. Back on the streets of Barking, a wealthy merchant is looking for a loan. Everyone’s out to make it for themselves; but everything comes at a price.

Cleverly relocated to Barking in an adaptation by local writer Ashley Joseph and directed by Angela Michaels, Studio 3 Arts presents a professional cast of actors alongside a team of community performers from across the Borough. Be a part of a history in the making, this is Shakespeare like you have never seen it before: on the streets of Barking.

This year commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and to mark this occasion Studio 3 Arts will present an exciting promenade outdoor production of The Merchant of Venice from Tuesday 5 – Sunday 10 July around Barking Town Centre’s key landmarks.