Saturday 11 December 2021

11/12/21: The Merchant of Vegas, Dame Alice Owen’s School, Hertfordshire

Written and directed by Emma Govier, the school drama teacher, this updates the Shakespeare play by moving the action to the Las Vegas and Salt Lake City of the 1990s. The characters speak in a manner informed by the films Clueless and Legally Blonde. As with the Sherlock Holmes show of a couple of years ago, it sprawls and rambles expansively for quite a long time and there are baffling moments that don’t make a great deal of sense. But the performances are spirited and the energy the kids put into it is truly inspiring. 

Much of the action takes place on a TV gameshow, on which suitors try to win marriage to Portia, so the plot is self-aware and somewhat post-modern. There’s also quite a lot about the Mormons, with the ruthless moneylender Shylock for some reason now recast as a fervent member of the Latter Day Saint movement. 

The 1990s music selections are nicely chosen, with everything from Blur and Oasis to Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Republica used to build period detail. It turns out that Shylock is a fan of Shania Twain. It’s also good to see the costumes include Britney, Dinosaur Jr and Supergrass T-shirts. (I was a little confused why one boy was wearing a Jam T-shirt as that group split up in 1982.)

My favourite scene is probably the one in which Bassanio sings “Kiss Me” (by Sixpence None the Richer) to Portia, with gently swaying dancers in shades moving behind him. Other scenes are punctuated by a trio of skilled dancers. 

There’s also an Elvis impersonator, whose voice and guitar playing steadily improved in confidence across each of the three nights. One oddity is a part of the script that seems to suggests Elvis was married to Lisa-Marie. In fact, he was married to Priscilla and Lisa-Marie was their daughter (born in 1968). 

A few lines were forgotten on the first night but by the second and third nights everything had become slicker. And some of the Brooklyn accents even started to become decipherable. 

It’s heartwarming to see all this young talent and to witness so much fun being had.

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