Presented by Grist To The Mill Productions Ltd.
Reviewed 23rd February, 2018
OK, so Bassanio’s been killed – unlawfully killed, at that. The Chief Inspector is grilling that loudmouth drunk, Gratiano. Used to be a bit of a bovver-boy in his day; kick you as soon as look at you. Indignant, Gratiano asks the cop, “Do I look like a murderer?”
The performer in this British one-man show is Ross Ericson, a tall, beefy man with an actor’s feline grace. His broad face appears to be made from uncooked scone dough – it can do anything and go anywhere. Ericson wears Neat Casual; the clothes a Midlands chap would choose to wear to go down to the pub. The action of the play alternates between pub and interrogation room at the cop-shop. On a bare stage, lighting state, a chair and a bar sign help to differentiate these locations. Ericson’s acting makes it utterly clear at all times.
Actor Ericson, one of the founders of the recently-formed UK theatre company Grist To The Mill, is also the playwright. Another company member, Michelle Yim is the director. Ericson’s writing, sometimes metrical and sometimes prose, is always witty, nuanced, and clear, with an excellent ear for the speech rhythms of the British working-class underdog. He whines, he cajoles, he blusters and blames, with a glorious range of vocal capability and physical commitment. He makes his performance tasks look deceptively easy. Yim’s direction is neat, unobtrusive and clever; she is careful to enable the flow of the story at all times, without hampering the actor’s creativity.
Do you need to have a firm grasp of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice before you can enjoy this funny, vigorous and intelligent show? No. Although a bunch of Shakespeare buffs seated in my row chuckled, snickered and groaned at each internal reference, the story’s simple and richly entertaining. Bassanio’s old pal Gratiano, boozer, braggart, head-kicker and ordinary guy, is in the frame for murder, and he’s loudly denying any complicity to the cynical cop. Over in the bar, he quietly confides, “Now I am a man full of regrets of things undone and things unsaid.” He leaves us wondering. Yes, the action is set in Italy just after the fall of Mussolini, but it could well be anywhere and at any time. Its overarching theme is “the other” – whom do we hate, who told us to hate them, and why? Gratiano complains, “There is no justice; there is just us.” Ericson’s elegant fable reaches out beyond today’s xenophobes and ultra-nationalists and speaks with integrity while we laugh our socks off.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Rating out of 5: 4½ stars
Venue: Bakehouse Theatre – Studio
Season: 23rd February – 3rd March 2018
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: Full Price: $25:00 Concession: $20:00