Gratiano – Old Joint Stock, Birmingham

Writer: Ross Ericson

Director: Michelle Yim

Reviewer: James Garrington

Bassanio is dead – he has been murdered and Gratiano has been taken in for questioning. As he faces his interviewers, he considers all of the possible culprits and what their motives for the crime might have been.

Gratiano takes The Merchant of Venice and looks at the plot anew in hindsight and through the eyes of a minor character. Set in post-war Italy, it encourages the audience to think about the way Shylock was treated in the 16th century, and compare it to his probable fate under Mussolini, with a glance at the nature of propaganda, and how it can be used to sway public opinion so as to subvert democracy.

If that sounds complicated and slightly muddled, that’s because the play is too. Running at just 60 minutes, Gratiano tries to cram these concepts into one short piece. Each of the devices may, individually, have some merit, and each could itself justify a full-length piece, but in a play of this length it feels rather confused and as though there is too much going on, with a single actor (Ross Ericson) playing the character of Gratiano in two different guises.

Ericson cuts an imposing figure on the stage and holds the audience’s attention with a forceful delivery which has little subtlety or light and shade. Armed only with a bottle of beer and a chair, he plays Gratiano as a small-time crook, jealous of his former friends and their success, and carries the characterisation off well, with just a few stumbles over his words. With the different ideas mixed into the script, Gratiano does not provide an easy evening of theatre, needing some concentration to try to keep on top of what is going on – and if you see this without at least a working knowledge of the Merchant of Venice you may find it impossible to keep track.

This piece may have you leaving the theatre feeling confused, inspired, or reflective. You may spend the rest of the evening trying to work out just what was going on, it may make you want to look at The Merchant of Venice with new eyes, you may end up thinking how clever the script is – and if theatre can make you think about what you’ve seen, then maybe that should count as a success.

Reviewed on 29 September 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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