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RSC (First Encounters) review: The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice, RSC, at Nelson Mandela Primary School, Birmingham, Sept 25 & 26, and at the Swan Theatre, Stratford, Sept 30-Oct 5. A team of Royal Shakespeare Company actors held the young pupils of Nelson Mandela and Anderton Park primary schools in Birmingham spellbound for this 90-minute performance. This was a First Encounters with Shakespeare production aimed primarily at seven to 13-year-olds using Shakespeare's original language. Directed and edited by Robin Belfield, the production now embarks on a six-week national tour of schools and regional theatres. As part of the partnership with computer software firm Adobe, the tour includes a digital learning experience, equipping teachers with resources to teach Shakespeare in new, engaging ways. The touring show features eight professional actors and 22 under-18s who share the roles of Jessica and Lorenzo. The young actors are part of the RSC Next Generation ACT. For this performance, Jessica and Lorenzo were played by Holly Stuart (aged 15) and Sahib Khatkar (aged 14) who played their parts very convincingly. The cast did a marvellous job in drawing the children into the play. There was music, drama, action and plenty of humour, and the performances of all of the actors ensured the story could be understood and followed by the young audience. Shylock was played brilliantly by Shani Erez. Portia (Yasmin Taheri) and her handmaid Nerissa (Eloise Secker) made for a delightful double act as they outwitted the dubious suitors who came to win Portia's hand in marriage. Eloise also played Lancelot Gobbo who really struck a chord with the young audience as she battled with her conscience – what to chose, celery or a lollipop? Most of the actors doubled up to play different roles, and Ray Sesay who played Bassanio, the Moroccan prince, and Aragon, was superb. Morgan Philpott was Antonio who very nearly lost his pound of flesh. Sam Pay took the roles of the Duke, Tubal and Stephano, Emma Swan made a lively Salerio, and Oliver Cudbill played Gratiano.

The success of the performance was mirrored in the faces of the audience as they sat enthralled by the drama unfolding in their school hall. What a brilliant way to introduce Shakespeare to the young – and the not so young.

Pictured: Yasmin Taheri in rehearsal (Sam Allard (c) RSC)

For details of the Swan performances and to book tickets, go to:

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