Two years ago, I saw "Midsummer Night's Dream" in Stratford. I gave it a 3/5 star rating. The acting was superb but the cross-gender casting was annoyingly gimmicky. It made no sense.
Fast forward two years to the upcoming performances of "The Merchant of Venice" at The Arts Project in London, produced by Crow Bait Productions.
In this adaptation by Jason Rip, there isn't really cross-gender casting, but the roles have been redefined and include what can best be described as "gender-fluid" characters, loan sharks, drug dealers, rappers, major media, and Jewish crime bosses. The language is Shakespeare's, but the setting is modern.
And it all hangs together beautifully. It has a modern-day internal consistency that was lacking in the Stratford production of "Midsummer Night's Dream". And the acting is superb.
If you have ever seen or read "The Merchant of Venice", you will be very impressed with this production. Heck, even if you haven't read or seen it, you'll be impressed. The continuity, the modernization, the setting (for a black-box theatre), and the acting will all impress you.
Of special note is the performance by Franklin Davis Jr as Shylock. I have never seen anyone portray Shylock as well and as convincingly as he does. The others are all excellent, but he is stunningly amazing. I am moved to tears by his speech "Am I not a Jew..." every time he delivers it.
Franklin Davis Jr as Shylock:
I'm happy to be along for the ride, with two minor roles as Old Gobbo (a blind street person who sells soap to earn a bit of extra cash) and Tubal (kingpin of the Jewish underworld?), along with some stagehand work thrown in for good measure.
Me as Tubal during a dress rehearsal:
The conceptualization by Jason Rip is just plain brilliant. His work, along with that of the producer/props-person/jane-of-all-trades Sue Parke, co-director Kim Kaitell, and stage manager Emma Wise, has brought to this stage a production that is far superior to the glitzier but far less brilliant productions I have seen in Stratford.
If the folks at London's Grand Theatre or Niagara's Shaw Festival or Stratford's Festival had any sense, they would put Rip and Davis under contract to move this production to their stages. It's that good.