The big gimmick in Rupert Goold’s production of Shakespeare’s Venetian play is that it’s set in modern day Las Vegas.
The show originally starred Patrick Stewart as Shylock at the RSC in Stratford a few years ago. Here, Ian McDiarmid resuscitates the role amid a sea of kitsch in America’s gambling capital. Meanwhile, the poster for the show features a golden hamburger — perhaps to warn us that it’s being served with extra cheese.
The idea is to satirise today’s casino investment culture. Tom Scutt’s design is a version of Caesar’s Palace where navy-blue Doric columns are trimmed with gold, and TV monitors display shopping channels and roulette wheels. Basically, an elaborate, Elizabethan spoof of a modern trading room.
As for the play’s parallel story about Portia the prize bride in nearby Belmont, she is presented as a blonde bimbo on a Blind Date type game show in which the man who picks the right casket gets to marry her.
Shylock is a kind of payday lender whom the hero Antonio engages to secure a debt for a friend. When Antonio’s plan goes belly up, we are launched into the story that makes many people dismiss the play as culpable anti-Semitism.
And yet Goold’s production is straining so hard to be cool, this dimension of the story is very nearly blown away. It is an embarrassment — something Goold knows has to be dealt with, despite heartily disapproving of it.