Cut to the Chase at the Queen's Theatre Hornchurch
Venice and Belmont are given an exotic makeover in the Queen's stylish Merchant, with delicious little domes, and the starry "floor of heaven" overhead.
Glen Walford's take on the show is billed as New Romantic early 80s; in practice this sometimes looks bizarre, with the boys looking like something from The Student Prince, and Portia and her maid coming on like nymphets from Carry On Cleo.
Fortunately Will Shakespeare's words are accorded true respect: the cast, without exception, speak the verse clearly and meaningfully, and the tale of "lovers and loan sharks" is passionately and pacily told.
Cut to the Chase are famed for their versatility, and the music [Carol Sloman's score, featuring snippets from Death in Venice, and Donna Summer's Hot Stuff as the jig at the end] was played and sung by the actors, Nerissa on violin, Shylock on guitar and so on.
Matt Devitt's genial Shylock effortlessly elicited sympathy in an impressive performance, with old-fashioned soliloquies and beautifully crafted set-pieces. He made Stuart Organ's hard-man Antonio seem unreasonable by contrast. Josie Taylor [keyboard], new to the Queen's, made a lovely Portia, young, funny but pleasingly direct as Balthazar, her Mercy speech stripped to the basics.
Two Queen's regulars made excellent contributions to a strong production: Simon Jessop was a merry fool as Gobbo, with his clowning and his air-guitar, and Natasha Moore was predictably engaging as the "beautiful pagan".
Flaming torches, carnival masks, spherical caskets containing the three heads – Damien Hirst skull, ventriloquist's "blinking idiot" and a cameo of Portia – and a gorgeous set [Rodney Ford] made this a visually as well as dramatically satisfying Shakespeare.
production photo: Nobby Clark