“If you prick us, do we not bleed?” famously asks Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The question for Propeller’s abridged version of that play is slightly different: if you strip out two-thirds of the text, is it still the same play?
Pocket Merchant excises not just all the sub-plots of one of the Bard’s most controversial plays, but also most of the set and the cast. This is a barebones production – harshly lit, sparsely designed, speedily performed – but still full fat when it comes to the acting.
The core of the story – Shylock and Antonio’s feud, their religious rivalry, and themes of deceit and distrust – are all preserved and Chris Myles and Darrell Brockis as the lead players acquit themselves well; Myles particularly is a bitter and stubborn Shylock and manages to escape caricature despite the briefer running time.
Jon Trenchard plays his cross-dressing roles as Jessica and Portia for all the laughs he can, providing some essential light in this otherwise dark tale.
Michael Pavelka’s design adds an unnecessary prison theme that thankfully barely intrudes, but Edward Hall and Roger Warren have done a sterling job in condensing the action down inside an hour.
It’s not the same play, but it’s still a strong production.