Merchant of Venice in Vegas - reviews of 'compelling' update

Shakespeare's problem play about greed relocates to Las Vegas and 'the gamble pays off'

The Merchant of Venice
(Image credit: Ellie Kurttz)

What you need to know

An updated version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, relocated to Las Vegas, has opened at the Almeida theatre, London. The show, from Almeida Artistic Director Rupert Goold, is a revival of his earlier production for the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 2011.

In modern-day Las Vegas, young noble Bassanio seeks a loan to help him win the hand of wealthy heiress Portia, who appears on a game show in southern Belmont searching for a husband. His devoted friend Antonio agrees to guarantee the loan from the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, but Shylock demands a heavy price. Ian McDiarmid stars as Shylock. Runs until 14 February.

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What the critics like

Goold's zippy production relocates Shakespeare's problem play and its themes of greed and need and anti-Semitism to a modern-day Las Vegas, and "the gamble pays off", says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. There is such a treasure of invention here, such finely calibrated acting amid the gaudy set that it's "utterly compelling".

Goold's revelatory production "brilliantly illuminates" this problematic play about money, juxtaposing the casino culture of Vegas with the showbiz fantasy-land of Belmont, says Michael Billington in The Guardian. What is really startling, however, is its non-stop inventiveness.

"Flashy, egregious and unflaggingly provocative", it certainly trains a lurid light on the hypocrisy of the Christians and their professed moral superiority, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. The drama of harsh economics and fairy tale romance finds a mocking home in this mammon-driven phony Eden, replete with a fake Rialto Bridge and Elvis impersonator.

What they don't like

It's clever on paper, but this zanily high-concept show gets "stuck in its own over-marinaded conceit", says Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph. Though everyone is pumping everything they've got into the machine, it's not quite enough to hit the jackpot.

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