It is true to say that without Italy there would be no Shakespeare. Our work is suffused with the appreciation that Italy influenced Shakespeare’s genius to create new means of expression about the human condition. The stories of ancient Rome came down to him through the works of Plutarch, Seneca and their contemporaries and adaptations from medieval Italian drama. His comedies and tragedies were inspired by and adapted from great Italian authors like Boccaccio, Ser Giovanni and Bandello.
The Merchant of Venice
We are currently raising funds for a planned production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in partnership with Creation Theatre Company in Oxford – a site specific, six-actor version of directed by Bill Alexander in the Norrington Room in Blackwell's bookshop.
Shakespeare in Italy is seeking investors for a three year span of productions via a government run scheme Social Investment Tax Relief.
Director Bill Alexander:
“Of all Shakespeare's plays the one that has fascinated me the most and for longest is ‘The Merchant of Venice’. I first directed it for the RSC in the late ‘80s and have returned to it three more times over the years. I have set it in the Renaissance, in the Victorian and Edwardian eras and in modern times each one throwing different aspects of the play in sharper focus. I've cast it colour blind, complicating it's racial issues, and gender blind, emphasising its interrogation of sexuality and desire. Whether set in the Elizabethan or modern world it's a complex text that always seems to benefit from added complexity, deepening the impact of this remarkable play and it's dark heart.
Dedicated to focusing initially on the five plays set exclusively in Renaissance Italy ( The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing and The Two Gentlemen of Verona ), we have forged a relationship with the Goldoni Theatre in Venice and the site specific, Oxford based company Creation. The culture and politics of Italy had a profound effect on Shakespeare's drama and part of our focus will be to explore the nature of that influence by playing in both countries and building cultural links between Great Britain and Italy.
Overtime it is hoped that the company and its productions will travel throughout Europe during a period of our history when artistic linkage to the continent will be more vital than ever. Shakespeare was, without doubt, a European in the deepest sense. His stories are mainly set in Europe and (apart from the History Cycles) have their narrative and intellectual origins in France, Spain, Denmark, Germany and Italy. With the Italian quintet in particular you can observe a new dramatic chemistry that blends an emergent British naturalism with the stylised bravado of Commedia dell Arte.
Given my long history with ‘The Merchant of Venice’ it seemed only natural that this play should be the one with which we began that exploration.
As well as being about race and class the play is also about wealth and the way money, love and the love of money interact with class and race to infect the human mind. I will create a modern world, theatrically heightened, to make a production that illuminates the psychological confusion and emotional upheaval (expressed both comically and tragically) that inevitably springs from the collision of sexual desire, parental love and the pursuit and worship of wealth.
Using a cast of only six actors the production will be designed to respond to the unique performance space situated within the Oxford branch of Blackwell's Bookshop. Focusing on a central group of characters at the heart of the play the production will create an atmosphere of unparalleled realism and emotional intimacy between actors and audience. The reimagining of the narrative arc and physical location of well-known scenes will emphasise those parts of the play that reflect most directly our contemporary relationship to issues such as wealth inequality, anti- semitism and the difficulty of forming lasting relationships in a changing and insecure world."