On Stage: The Merchant of Venice | Verve Magazine
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February 27, 2015

On Stage: The Merchant of Venice

Text by Wyanet Vaz. Images courtesy: Zoya-the Exquisite Diamond Boutique

Everything you need to know about Vickram Kapadia’s contemporary version of the The Merchant of Venice. Don’t miss the exclusive interactions with the cast and crew

If Shylock was your favourite for his ruthless and bizarre desire for a pound of flesh, you should treat yourself to the contemporary version of The Merchant of Venice. The dark and twisted play by Shakespeare is retold through the modern eyes of Vickram Kapadia. We attended a short preview at the Zoya store, who lent their designs to the costume set, which were as eternal as the play itself. Verve goes backstage for some exclusive interactions with the cast, for the show that makes its debut at the NCPA this weekend.

Ira Dubey is in her element here. With a crisp and meticulous dialogue delivery, she gives Portia the edge she deserves.

Challenges of playing Portia… “The first reference Vickram gave me for Portia was Paris Hilton, and I was horrified and disagreed completely. But, what he meant was the extravagance of that lifestyle. A few weeks into rehearsal, he said that Portia was everything, she was all woman and had many shades, and that it was my job to find those, and tap into all those aspects. She’s strong, compassionate, sexy, dignified, intelligent, sensitive, funny, romantic, quick-thinking and becomes ‘a man’ – which were all challenging to portray.”

Is Portia different from the contemporary woman? “No, not really. Her most appealing quality is her humanity, Portia’s famous speech is an appeal to Shylock’s sense of compassion — it’s a simple, direct, and beautiful plea for mercy. She is adept at combining emotion with logic, and even after she marries Bassanio, she takes the initiative to save Antonio, and in many ways sets out to save Shylock too. She is hope for women, who in today’s world can have their place and hold their own in a man’s space, and yet rationalise and reason differently from men.”

Favourite scene… “The trial scene, and a small scene between Tubal and Shylock which shows us a completely different, very humane side of Shylock.”

Favourite works of Shakespeare…Hamlet, As you Like It and of course, The Merchant Of Venice.”


If you’ve been a fan of Luke Kenny since his Rock On days, you’ll enjoy watching him play the generous Antonio. When we asked him to define love, he said, “Love is a rock song with the passion of a bass guitarist.”

Challenges of playing Antonio… “It’s been a return to theatre and to Shakespeare for me after a long break. So, while I knew I was going to be thrown headlong into the magical blank verse and then grapple with the iambic pentameter that Shakespeare so skillfully wrote, it was the kind guidance of international expert Andrew Wade and the strong and formidable direction of Vickram that made the journey possible.”

Is Antonio different from the contemporary and modern man? “The magic of Shakespeare is that each and every character he ever wrote are all relevant to every individual in some way or the other, which is why the works can be so abundantly interpreted. So yes, Antonio is very much a man of today, who is an entrepreneur, a controller, yet susceptible to honest emotion, gullible in love and ever ready to make sacrifices to keep his commitment.”

Favourite adaptation of The Merchant of Venice “The most famous is one with Al Pacino, which is heavily edited for film. A 1973 version with Laurence Olivier in it is interesting to watch. There is also a 1980 version which brings out the language magically.”

Favourite scene… “It has to be the court scene which is the crux of the play. Every principal character in the scene goes through a huge gamut of emotions and is enormously turbulent.”

The myth of Shakespeare… “Myths are, but fabrications around the recorded historical facts, so at the end of the day, once all the fabrications are stripped away, what really remains are the words and the language, and that is the exquisite treasure that Shakespeare has so magnanimously left us with.”

Vickram Kapadia, who is also the director, takes on the magnanimous role of Shylock. Whether or not he lives up to the expectations, the pressure till then…can only be real.

On directing a Shakespearean play… “Putting on a Shakespeare production is like running a marathon. It takes five times the effort compared to any other theatre genre. It takes weeks, just to get the blank verse flowing smoothly off your tongue.”

On sticking to the original script… “For me doing Shakespeare in the original text is the most important thing. It’s sheer poetry and although it takes effort to perform and understand — I would not want to tamper with the original text. I use modern imagery to keep things relevant to today’s audiences.”

Most challenging scene in the play “The court scene. It is a long scene and requires immense concentration, precision and stamina. Portia’s speech is so well known that everyone has an opinion on how it should be performed. And it’s high intense drama — how do you project that without melodrama?”

Favourite character… “Shylock! The depth and complexity of the character makes playing Shylock every actor’s dream.”

Favourite play… “Romeo and Juliet!”

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