Insomnia has some advantages, last night I ended up watching a programme about The Merchant of Venice on BBC 2's Learning Zone.
"Shakespeare's play performed by members of the National Youth Theatre in a specially abridged version by Tom Stoppard. The innovative 45 minute stage production is accompanied by documentary footage of rehearsals in progress and interviews with the cast, crew, director and Tom Stoppard about the play's themes, plot, language and characters."
Having studied The Merchant of Venice in secondary school for the Inter. Cert. (I took the last Intermediate Certificate before the Junior Certificate was introduced) I did like the play in essence, particularly some of the more famous, of the endless speeches which we learned off-by-heart. However, like many, many students forced to study Shakespeare, I never read every single word in the play and even though I understood the play and found the character of Shylock very interesting I never really "got" the play in a rounded and complete way - until last night!
After watching the documentary interviews with both Tom Stoppard (who abridged Shakespeare's original 2.5 hour play down to a 45 minutes) and the Director Paul Roseby I found myself deciding that their proposed productin could never work. How could the integrity of the play be retained in 45 minutes, especially when many of the famous speeches had been cut way down and all 13 characters retained, therefore "diluting" the much beloved Shylock's presence?
But as insomnia remained my bed companion I continued watching as the production by the UK's National Youth Theatre began. Despite the many intervening years I found myself remembering some of those speeches that I had spent endless hours learning. However, it was the brilliance of the whole production, from the fantastic performances by the young actors to the wonderment of watching this play for perhaps the fourth or fifth time and finally really getting touched by its' comedy and really getting a sense, not only of the play as a whole but of all the many, wonderful characters, that truly amazed me.
All I can say is that I all my initial doubts were truly washed away, I only wish I had been privilged enough to view this wonderful production whilst studying the play, all those years ago.