Petina Hapgood | Director • Educator                                                  Artistic Director • Goodmann Productions

18th – 30th September

The Courtyard Theatre – Hoxton

Artistic Director: Petina Hapgood
Director: Sharon Burrell
Assistant Director: Margaret Cohen

After last year’s successful A Midsummer Night’s Dream Goodmann Productions: return to The Courtyard this year with one of Shakespeare’s (most controversial plays) THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

The not-too-distant future. Political and financial turmoil rages across Europe. Society, as we know it, is on the brink of collapse. Even Venice, with its gondolas, opera and beautiful skies is no longer safe…

Amidst the chaos, Antonio, a desperately-broke Italian, pledges a pound of his own flesh to a moneylender, Shylock, to help his best friend Bassanio win Portia’s hand in a “Game of Chance”. Antonio learns a hard lesson in loyalty, humanity, friendship and prejudice when the revenge-seeking Shylock comes to collect his bond.

This vibrant, contemporary production played out by a terrific ensemble cast and directed by Petina Hapgood; will leave you on the edge of your seats. .. There will be laughter and tears. This one is definitely not to be missed!


Reviewer Vernon Thompson: Theatre Director

Goodmann Productions in association with City Lit have come up with a very entertaining production of one of Shakespeare’s most controversial plays. Its primary strength is director Petina Hapgood’s clear and ambitious concept of setting the play in the political climate of contemporary European economic tensions, complete with modern-day fripperies including a popular game show in which contestants try to pick the right casket!

Jason Hewitt and James Heatlie are superb as Antonio and Bassanio whose friendship puts Antonio at the real risk of losing a pound of flesh. The very charismatic and watchable Ben Matthews (Gratiano) tends to steal every scene he is in, while Lucinda Lloyd offers the best Portia I have ever seen, ultra feminine yet completely believable when switching gender. Cat Losty provides sparkling support as Nerrisa. There’s a lovely naturalistic performance from Edward Daw as Lorenzo and Aimee Robertson is a sweet Jessica. Billy Hicks seizes Launcelot Gobbo with relish and there is a strong array of supporting performances, including Christopher Poke and Natan Barreto.

Recasting Shylock as a woman is a gamble but Petina Hapgood rises to the challenge magnificently, particularly in her final humiliation in a good courtroom scene. Petina’s scenes among others are directed by Sharon Burrell, a young director to keep your eye on as she is going places!

A very strong element of the performance is the fantastic ambience created by guitarist Nicholas and singer Deborahgrace Bensberg whose sublime voice adds and underlines both poignancy and joy in the accompanying scenes.

The production runs until 30th September and is well recommended.

Theatre Director: Vernon Thompson

The Merchant of Venice 4/5 *****

Reviewed at Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton
That old controversial classic from Shakespeare gets modernised and even more sensationalised as it moves to the Venice of the near future, with a peaking Eurozone crisis and everything just generally going tits up for tomorrow’s Venetians both financially and emotionally. It’s an ultimately valid but pretty predictable contemporary commentary, smartly blanketed by a move that propels it to the present day in a bolder and more innovative way, with the thoughtful decision to cast a female Shylock – played to superbly scary effect by co-director Petina Hapgood.

Hoxton heroine Hapgood was asked to direct for The Courtyard again after her previous Shakespearean summer success with A Midsummer’s Night Dream last year. It’s clear to see why, equipped with a carefully hand-picked cast, a lot of which are a roll call of City Lit’s finest. These include Wind-Up Collective wonder Billy Hicks being perfectly cast as Launcelot Gobbo, effortlessly sweeping in the necessary comic energy, Christopher Poke, faultlessly flipping between the Duke of Venice and Old Gobbo, poignantly sweet in the latter, and Jason Hewitt as a suitably tanned Antonio, frolicking in the latent gay subtext with close companion Bassanio (James Heatlie).

Goodmann Productions’ adaptation does the original play’s memorable dramatic moments justice, with the rather intense eventual courtroom scene. Welcome comedic interjections are present with a recurring reality television show, in which Portia’s (Lucinda Lloyd) potential suitors compete to win her affections. This is mainly saved by the hilarious Natan Barreto and Martin Sales as the Princes of Morocco and Arragon respectively, the latter representing the talent tipping out of The Court Theatre Training Company. Deborahgrace Bensberg and Nicholas Bensberg add a purely divine musical depth to the piece, while the prop and set design is simple and subtle.

The sheer length puts the editing into question, and whether everything depicted was entirely needed. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable and relevant reworking of a timeless tale with a top ensemble of both cast and crew.


Words: Samuel Reynolds

More from GT Stage


It is gratifying to come across a contemporary version of Shakespeare that works.  They don’t always.  The Merchant of Venice (Courtyard Theatre until 30th September) is a bold update to present day Venice, with references to Euros rather than ducats, and cunning inserts about key players such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and naturally Germany.  Directors Petina Hapgood and Sharon Burrell take us straight to the cafe culture of modern Venice, with young traders contemplating their losses over their cappuccinos.  The story comes through clearly:  Bassanio, in love with Portia, borrows a great deal of money from his wealthy friend Antonio to pursue his courtship of Portia.  Antonio, all of whose ships are at sea in various parts of the world, borrows money from Shylock, binding himself to Shylock’s curious demand for a pound of his own flesh should the bond remain unpaid. While Bassanio is successful in his courtship of Portia, Antonio hears that all his ships have gone astray. Shylock demands the payment of the bond.  And it is only a brilliantly plausible young lawyer (Portia in disguise) who points out that yes, of course, the Jew is entitled to payment of the bond – the pound of flesh – as long as no blood is spilt.

Hapgood and Burrows make the story come alive before our eyes. The Casket  scene at Portia’s palace becomes an exciting  game show, with the Prince of Morocco  (touchingly played by Natan Barreto) , an amateur of  Reggae,  and the Prince of Arragon  (a hilariously military Espanol by Martin Sales),  the whole event  energised by a ferociously game show-esque soundtrack.

The courtroom, packed with suits, is totally believable as a modern day arena of justice. The trial, in which Shylock comes tantalisingly near gaining his objectives only to find his hopes dashed, is one of the best scenes in the play; it is almost unbearable to watch as the humiliation of Shylock is racked up notch by notch and the so called “Christians” gloat with sadistic pleasure at the spectacle. As Shylock crawls away and the court gradually empties, young lawyers bundle up their papers and shuffle off, leaving us alone with the strange and remarkably contemporary emptiness after the day’s events.

For the most part, the actors acquit themselves well. The big surprise of the night was that Shylock becomes a female banker/moneylender.  Petina Hapgood gave a robust performance of a hardnosed business woman with a bit of a grudge against others; her visceral despair when she learns of the disappearance of her daughter Jessica, and when she is ruined in court,  is deeply touching.  Portia is beautifully played by Lucinda Lloyd: her impersonation of the ferociously intelligent lawyer perhaps even more credible than the somewhat scheming wife and lover. Billy Hicks gave a highly creditable account of Lancelot Gobbo, a notoriously difficult part.  Some of the actors need to project more; in some cases there is not enough precision or even empathy with the poetry.

But all in all, Goodmann productions, aided and abetted by the delightful singing of Deborahgrace Bensberg, give us a superb evening  – Don’t miss it

Kate Glover

Artistic Director of Historia Theatre Company

Written by Alice Longhurst

Shakespeare’s tale of financial and emotional turmoil is here located in the Venice of the near future; references to the failing Euro and the vicious world of money-lending conjure images of recession and evil loan-sharks. It’s an obvious point to make and made in an obvious way, but that’s not really the focus of this production. What is far more striking is the decision to cast a female Shylock, namely Petina Hapgood, who also happens to be one of the directors. There are lots of good reasons for this gender change. Women are poorly represented in “The Merchant of Venice” – there is Portia who boldly disguises herself as a doctor in order to both trick her husband and fight for the life of his best friend Antonio, but she spends the majority of the play as the demure maiden. So having a female Shylock redresses the gender imbalance and also challenges the portrayal of the traditional evil villain. Hapgood seems perfectly suited to the role, giving us a stubborn and bigoted middle-aged businesswoman, full of malice and bent on claiming her pound of flesh. She’s convincing, and also opens up a different understanding of the role, for example adding intensity to the pain Shylock feels at the loss of his/her daughter.

All of this action flits between an Italian café where the slickly dressed lads do their plotting and banking over espressos, and the strange, hopefully intentionally cringe-worthy “Fort Belmont” reality TV contest in which the players compete for Portia’s hand. This, one assumes, is the attempt to adapt Shakespeare for a modern audience in this production. The result is off-putting, and hard to relate to the rest of the production; one can’t help but feel the comic potential here is lost, as is the case with the final scenes where the truth of the girls’ cross-dressing escapade is revealed. The acting is good, on the whole, but there’s an excessive amount of teenage scampering and a disappointing lack of depth.

There are, though, some redeeming features which make the production at least watchable. There is real, engaging tension in the courtroom scene and the Jewish-style music by singer, Deborahgrace Bensberg, and guitarist, Nicholas Bensberg, provides continuity and roots us in the religious conflict which sits at the heart of the play. The main reason for turning up, though, is to catch Hapgood’s performance, which is strongly convincing and brings a refreshing perspective to the role of Shylock.

The Merchant of Venice is at the Courtyard Theatre in London until Sunday 30 of September