See Shakespeare in the sun at Cannizaro Park

The beautiful scenery and sunshine in Cannizaro Park has become the backdrop, setting, and stage for The Mayhem Theatre Company’s fifth Wimbledon based Shakespeare production.

After yesterday’s opening night, it seems – clear skies provided – the sun has encouraged many to flock to the party-themed production.

The Merchant of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s more complicated comedies, interweaving plots of love, justice and religion.

It focuses mainly on the conflict between Antonio, a merchant of Venice, and Shylock, a Jewish moneylender.

Director Matt Bentley has been directing since he was 18, moving from New Zealand in 2015 to start directing at The Mayhem Theatre Company.

South West Londoner spoke to Bentley, now 35, about the weather, the venue, and bringing Shakespeare to Wimbledon.

Q:How was yesterday’s opening night?

It was great! We got fantastic feedback from the audience; they were buzzing, I don’t think it’s what they expected!

Q:Why do you think Shakespeare is so timeless?

The main themes, the Shakespearean themes, in this play – romance, mistaken identity, farce – will always be classics, but I’m not entirely sure the stories are always timeless. For example, we don’t know what Shakespeare thought about racism, a lot of the characters who are successful in the play are still really horrible to Shylock because he was Jewish.

Q:How do you make his work relevant to a modern audience?

We obviously keep in touch with the main idea of this play: decent people should be merciful. However, the way we portray Shylock, for example… he is a lot more of an introverted and endearing outcast, in contrast with the Shylock who is more of a put upon outcast. We like to separate our production from the racism in the play.

As well as this, the production itself has props and costumes that are relevant to each character but not very old or classical – they seem more at home in the area.

Q:How do you think the outdoor venue enhances the play?

Obviously the Italian gardens are quite a stunning area. The backdrop for the play is these huge trees and when you look up you can see the whole night sky through them.

We’re performing all around the audience, so it blurs the boundaries and makes the audience feel more relaxed and more like a part of the performance. We’re not performing it in a way where people come on, say their lines, and then leave – we’re sitting around at a sort of garden party, the characters wander on, they start chatting to each other, they’re improvising.

The weather definitely has worked in our favour – it’s been fantastic. Last year we had a sold out show of Romeo and Juliet but half the audience didn’t turn up because of the rain. This year I think more people are turning up because of the weather.

  • The Merchant of Venice is running until Saturday July 28 in Cannizaro Park.
  • Tickets are £13 or £10 for concessions, and audience members can bring their own picnics, rugs and cushions.
  • For more information see here. 

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