(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian 12/16.)
Rupert Goold’s revelatory production of this problematic play abruptly disappeared after a season at Stratford in 2011. It is now back, with many of the original cast, and I found it even more impressive. By setting the play in modern Las Vegas, Goold shows capitalism at its kitschiest being invaded by emotional reality.
Goold is not the first director to realise this is a play about money: money lent, borrowed, stolen and invested. But his most brilliant touch is to juxtapose the casino culture of Vegas with the showbiz fantasy-land of Belmont. Susannah Fielding’s Portia isn’t just the prize in a ritzy TV gameshow called Destiny: in one of the evening’s wittiest touches she justifies the text’s classical allusions by dressing as a golden-wigged Hesione to be won by a Herculean Bassanio. But the beauty of Fielding’s performance lies in its ambivalence. One moment her Portia is an instinctive racist. In the trial scene, she stages a breathtakingly last-minute rescue of Antonio. But the abiding image is of Fielding going heart-rendingly berserk, to the strains of Are You Lonesome Tonight, as she realises her husband is unshakeably in love with a man.