(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/1.)
Jonathan Pryce, making his Globe debut, presents us with a Shylock of weight, gravity and considerable complexity. It makes a startling contrast to the first Globe revival of this problematic play in 1998, in which the character became a hissed-at villain. Pryce’s performance also sets the tone for Jonathan Munby’s production which is, for the most part, a refreshingly sombre, quietly moving affair.
The key to Pryce’s performance is its duality: this is a Shylock who clearly combines the roles of social victim and domestic tyrant. The first big shock comes when, as Pryce produces a pocket bible to recount the story of Jacob and the sheep, Antonio grabs the book from his hands and humiliatingly tosses it to the floor. Even when Antonio roughly seizes him by the beard, Pryce makes a lightning recovery, reminding us that Shylock has adopted a beneficently hypocritical mask in order to survive daily insults. Left alone with Jessica (nicely played by Phoebe Pryce, the actor’s daughter), Shylock turns into a patriarchal bully as if tainted by his history of persecution. It is an astute touch and characteristic of a fine, deeply considered performance that highlights Shylock’s riven nature.