On first arrival, it was clear that this was going to be no average student production of Shakespeare. Worcester College looked gorgeous on a summer’s evening. A path traced out by tea-lights and fairy-lights led to a modest seating area facing a small pontoon-like stage extending a few metres over the lake, with Venetian gondolier mooring poles setting the scene, and musicians playing on a boat on the lake.
The return of the Buskins Shakespeare play on Worcester Lake is an exciting prospect in itself, as it boasts such a colourful history – in the 1949 production of The Tempest, the actor playing Ariel famously exited running across the lake (boarding was placed under the surface of the water). Entrances and exits on boats, wonderful costumes, atmospheric use of music, the professional energy of the ensemble, the wonderfully choreographed physical movement, both comedic and dramatic, culminating in a Shakespearian jig, all amounted to a delightful dramatic experience. Lucie Dawkins’s professional and creative direction shone through, and this production takes its place in an already impressive tradition.
Five stars does not necessarily mean perfection – every audience member will have their slight issues with a scene, or an actor, and first night nerves may account for the very occasional lack of spark at the beginning – but due to a universally energised and talented cast, and to the evidence of extraordinary direction, this play reaches the highest heights I’d have thought possible for a student production. Shakespeare is difficult to pull off brilliantly for untrained actors, but the majority of the cast struck a lovely balance between the heightened moments of poetry and emotion or farcical humour, and moments of subtle and naturalistic interplay.
Hannah Gliksten’s Portia is witty, charming and commanding. Barney Fishwick portrayed a bitter and abused Shylock, who both treats and is treated badly, allowing the audience to simultaneously rejoice for his defeat and sympathise with him. The relationship between Jessica (Amber Husain) and Lorenzo (Nathan Ellis) was nuanced and captivating – a great foil for the more conventional instances of Shakespearian love in the play. Richard Hill and Nick de Mulder, respectively playing the Princes of Arragon and Morocco, Portia’s horrendously unsuccessful suitors, are a comedic joy, as is Jack Sein as Launcelot Gobbo, all three idiosyncratically providing the belly laughs of the play.
Luke Howarth as Old Gobbo and later the Duke of Venice was an unexpected personal favourite, doing much with quite little – he displayed great talent in playing the old blind man with wonderful physical comedic timing and characterisation, and then similarly excelled as the Duke in the courtroom, giving the scene believable gravitas. Also, watch out for Constance Greenfield’s wordless and subtle but often hilarious reactions as she gives Nerissa wit and charisma.
There is so much more to rave about in this play, but I don’t have the space. Go and find out for yourself. There are tickets left on the door every night, so if you haven’t booked, do not despair. Do all you can not to miss this production.