First and foremost: a delightful evening in the theatre can be rare to come by. Therefore, I cannot recommend enough Bill Alexander's fifth and latest rendering of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice at the Playground Theatre. His retitled A Merchant of Venice is a refreshingly clear, pared-down but focused, retelling of a classic in which we glean enlightening nuances of plot and subtleties of character.

A small black box theatre can conjure up haunting memories of poorly performed school plays and the likes. However, Alexander's production in this humble setting seizes on the potential limitations of space by building an atmosphere and intimacy with the audience allowing the story to simply soar. Without the distractions, decorations, or clutter of a big-budget design, in Mr. Alexander's sparse production, relationships and drama take precedence. In the current zeitgeist, this cannot go unnoticed nor without due credit. 

The exceptional lighting design from Ryan Day tells multitudes of stories, moving the plot forward in the wisest and quietest of ways. But at its heart, is a truly exquisite ensemble of actors who bring this story to life. In particular, Alexander Knox as Bassanio is charming, nimble, and in possession of diction which voice teachers would die to draw out of their students. Lena Robin as Portia has an engaging presence and crafted beautiful soliloquies to an audience that hung on her every word. Her accent benefits her verse speaking which she speaks so naturally. John McAndrew as Antonio has a weight and austerity that draws the audience into his character's struggles highlighted adroitly in Alexander's adaption. Alex Wilson as Gratiano properly enraged us, Mary Chater's grasp of text offered clarity, and the storm of Peter Tate's Shylock was carefully charted and skillfully navigated. 

You will be thrilled to catch this production.

The show is running through 4 December.

Review: Matthew Pierce  Photo: Guy Bell