Merchant of Venice

This year commemorates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and to mark this auspicious occasion Studio 3 Arts will present an exciting promenade outdoor production of The Merchant of Venice from Tuesday 5 – Sunday 10 July around Barking Town Centre’s key landmarks. Based in Barking, Studio 3 Arts is at the forefront of social engagement in the arts. Studio 3 Arts’ Artistic Director Liza Vallance said ‘we have been exploring this play in the context of Barking and Dagenham for several years. It is an area with real diversity with over 100 languages spoken in schools, incredible artistic ambition and community activism, this production gives us a chance to explore race, religion, economics and enterprise’

This adaptation looks at the celebrity-driven, internet world full of selfies and hashtags. There’s a wealthy heiress looking for a husband and on the streets of Barking, a rich merchant is looking for a loan. Everyone is out to make it for themselves; but everything comes at a price. Relocated to Barking in an adaptation by local writer Ashley Joseph, Studio 3 Arts presents a professional cast of actors alongside a team of community performers from across the Borough. This promises to be Shakespeare as never seen before.

Merchant of Venice. Ashley in rehearsals (by Mark Sepple) Pic 3

Keep the Faith spoke to Ashley Joseph – writer and co-producer about Merchant of Venice
Tell us about Merchant of Venice?
The Merchant of Venice is about a young man, Bassanio (Alec Parkinson) who is in love with Portia a rich lady who lives far away from Barking, Belmont estate…in Romford. He unfortunately doesn’t have enough money to go there and enlists the help of his good wealthy friend Antonio who’s money is tied up in investments. Bassanio uses Antonio’s name as a guarantor to ask Shylock (Marc Bannerman), a wealthy man of Jewish faith who has a long feud with Antonio (Michael Bertenshaw). Shylock lends the money. And so a story takes off where we meet many characters going through their own dilemmas and life decisions. The production still sticks to the original storyline, character names, however it has been relocated to Barking, the language is a marriage of my language and Shakespeare’s #AshSpeare.
Another exciting element is that this production is a promenade which means the audience will not only go on an emotional journey but a physical one too. Around the Barking Town Square in and around some of the buildings.

How did you get involved in the show?
The Artistic Director of Studio 3 Arts (Liza Vallance) mentioned her desire to do The Merchant Of Venice in Barking about 7/8 years ago and literally for about 2 days a year we would speak about this production how we could do it, why we should do it and when…Then she sent me a message last year March whilst I was in Berlin saying, “we got the funding so you are commissioned to write it”.

What should people expect when they come to see the play?
People will definitely have an experience full of entertainment and enjoyments, however there are some home truths that the play touches upon. It’s painful to know that some of the issues Shakespeare was writing about over 400 years ago still have an impact on our society. Issues of race, religion, wealth and immigration are in the play. As well as love, anger and a lot of comedy.

Tell us how you became interested in theatre?
My eldest sister Charley Jai got me into it actually, she asked me to help her lines with a play she was rehearsing, after that I as hooked. I joined Stratford East Youth theatre to train as actor and joined Boy Blue entertainment to train in dance.

What are the positives of writing? What are the negatives?
Positives: Finishing the script. Negatives: Realising you’ve never finished a script. No I’m joking, but it is actually true.
Also creating characters, telling a story and having other people bring your story to life.

Do you enjoy Shakespeare? Why (or why not)?
I have enjoyed Shakespeare since my sixth form education before then I didn’t understand how his work related to me. When I re-connected with Shakespeare thanks to my A-Level Drama and Theatre studies teacher I loved it and found truth in the text as an actor and writer.

Name 5 things you love about Barking and Dagenham?
Studio 3 Arts- It’s a cultural hub for anyone of any age, race, religion, ethnicity who wants to get involved in the arts and community.
Cristina’s – One of the best restaurants to eat- Amazing lunch time special during the week.
Dagenham Heathway- I just love that area, driving through there, popping into the shops and it’s right by my favourite Uncles house.
Barking Market- You can always find a bargain!!!
Pipe Major, Dagenham East- great place for the summer to meet up and have a drink with friends…My best friend introduced me to it.

How, if at all, is religion dealt with in this adaptation?
The play looks at the rift between the Christian and Jewish communities and how religion can sometimes drive people apart. It is something that has remained from the original play, seeing how fear of other Religion can push communities and fellow neighbours, when everyone is still affected by illness, death, love and hurt in the same way. Hopefully that answered the question- I hope I didn’t just waffle on like some of my school teachers used to!

Tell us about your faith/spiritual beliefs?
I have always believed in God and a higher power, as well as spiritual energies. There are several multi-faiths within my family and friendship groups and the main thing I have learnt from this is that it’s about how your chosen faith improves you as human being towards yourself and others. Humility, patience, kindness.

Who and what inspires you?
That’s a really difficult question. Sometimes a song or a moment in a film or book or a speech will inspire me, plus I am really blessed to have so many positive people in my life.
A constant inspiration has been my Mother from when I was young she was always a fighter, in the sense of achieving and making things work out for the best no matter the situation. And also my Grandad a.k.a Mr GrandPappy! He’s no longer alive but I remember his eyes and how he always looked at me with pride and that I could achieve anything I put my mind too. I love them both dearly.

What’s next for Ashley?
I’m going bed, no haha. I am currently writing another draft of an original play called 5′ A Crowd, I have my improvised comedy show ACTing Up on at the Rich Mix theatre 21st July, plus presenting lots of festivals, teaching comedy, drama and script-writing workshops.

Performances are Tuesday 5th – Sunday 10th July, 7.45pm, Saturday 3pm & 7.45pm Sunday 3pm. Tickets are £5, £10. To book call: 020 8507 5607 | | Broadway Barking, Broadway, IG11 7LS #MOVBARKING

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