For Jamie Lloyd's impeccable revival in Bath, Susannah Fielding is insouciance personified as the affectation-laden creature, seemingly ever sticking a finger in a cake and giving it a good lick.
Pert little Lady Teazle's transition from the former camp to the latter is movingly managed by Susannah Fielding.
As the Teazles, James Laurenson and Susannah Fielding are exceptional. Their relationship is the cornerstone of this production and each one in turn deceives, confronts, hides and plots with such gusto you can't help but go along for the ride.
Its really about Portia, and Portia is something else, Susannah Fielding is fantastic. Susannah Fielding has to do an enormous amount of work, particularly at the end, the end is fascinating, and really worth seeing, just for how she tries to pull it off. We go into Tennessee Williams territory, she is phenomenal, she starts out like Reese Witherspoon (in legally blonde), and she ends up in the court room scene, going the whole way. There is a loss of energy in the play but she and Gratiano sustain it. She is the real stand out star. She is phenomenal.
But where Goold's production really breaks the mould is in its treatment of Portia. The casket-scenes are turned into a TV game-show called Destiny in which Susannah Fielding's stunning Portia dons a blonde wig and southern accent; she becomes, as it were, the hostess of a preposterous lottery in which her marital future is being decided. This not only provides wonderful comedy with the Prince of Morocco turning up as an avaricious contestant in golden boxing-shorts. It also achieves a startling final payoff when Fielding's Portia confronts the reality behind the make-believe; which is that Bassanio is more truly in love with Scott Handy's seductively melancholic Antonio than he is with her.
The star of the evening is the astonishing Portia of Susannah Fielding. It is hard to capture how she enriches the role with layers I never thought possible – but here Portia is someone who has been playing games all her life only to discover that winning does not always bring the rewards you might expect. Outstanding.
Susannah Fielding’s Portia is outstanding.
Susannah Fielding's brilliant, sinister Portia, who is a contestant in a vacuous gameshow.
But the most surprising aspect of Goold’s production is in his treatment of Portia. In a stand-out performance and making her RSC debut, Susannah Fielding plays her as a Southern belle forced to take part in a tacky TV game show to find a husband. By the end of the play, she is left as a kind of Stepford wife, trapped in a loveless marriage and spiralling into breakdown. She becomes as much the tragic centre of the play as Shylock - as much a victim of male Christian dominance as the Jew.
There are other psychological insights: Portia patronises Jessica, with faux friendly waves and condescending smiles: she would, wouldn't she? Still, more than anything, Goold brings together the two parts of the play, Venice and Belmont, Shylock and Portia, the supposedly realistic and the fairytale. Everyone is a gambler here: the men who wager their money on marine ventures, or getting a pound of flesh, the lovers who stake their romantic futures on a guess – and Portia who stakes herself. The revelation is to make Portia interesting rather than simply disjointed. As scintillated by Susannah Fielding, she is an apparently vacant pretty person, waiting to get picked up by a man, who then takes to the courtroom and proves herself brainier than the blokes who surround her. Who would have thought that inside The Merchant of Venice there was waiting to get out Legally Blonde? Fielding begins in squealy mode, with Dolly Parton hair, sticking-out skirt, rising inflections, and a range that goes from pert to pixie. She becomes muted and convincing as an androgynous lawyer. And then plunges into extraordinary unhappiness as an about-to-be bride. The evening – which touches throughout on the idea that Bassanio and Antonio might like to be more than friends – ends with her writhing in pain as she realises she's not always going to come first with her husband. Portia's path is clear if she wants to please her husband: she should go back to cross-dressing.
Susannah Fielding's Portia – a billionaire valley girl – is stuck with her casket-guessing suitors in a TV game show called Destiny.This is audacious and inspired. Ye olde fairytale caskets scenario, with that satiric twist, proves hilarious, and the production darkens poignantly. The US setting may seem an odd choice for Shakespeare's play about dire Christian-Jewish relations. But Goold is really developing a picture of a multicultural society riddled with xenophobia in various forms. When the cameras stop rolling, Fielding's Portia is horridly racist about her black suitor and dismisses the Hispanic one. When robbed of his daughter, Jessica, Stewart's dignified Shylock becomes a broken man, then vengeful with a touch of dementia. But this Merchant is ultimately Portia's tragedy. Ditching her dumb blonde act and turning smart lawyer, she saves Antonio – her husband's buddy – only to find these men love each other more than her.
This also allows Portia to star as hostess of a television game show called Destiny in which she herself is the delectably cute Barbie-doll prize (a superlative Stratford debut for Susannah Fielding).
It is Portia, not Shylock, who is the heart of the production and her shift from anxious heiress to disappointed lover pushed to the point of madness is the road it travels, steering from light into darkness. This is dominated by Portia and Fielding shines in the role.
The aspect I most enjoyed of The Merchant was the reinvention of Portia (super Susannah Fielding) as a Southern girl trapped by the dictates of her plutocrat father's will into playing both hostess and blonde bimbo prize on a live, never-ending TV programme called Destiny that is a cross between Blind Date and The Truman Show. Fielding is hilarious at the start in her manic flirtatiousness but there is a highly intelligent, insecure brunette under that curly peroxide wig as becomes apparent in the intense trial scene when a solution occurs to her on noticing Shylock balefully trace a cross over Antonio's bare torso without drawing blood.
Susannah Fielding is utterly enchanting as Portia. Fielding offers a ‘star’ performance of outstanding quality and assurance. No second fiddle to the character of Shylock, Fielding’s Portia rules the play with a rod of hair sprayed iron. When she arrives in a particularly violent subterranean meat store beneath the casino, dressed in male drag and ready to defend her husband’s overfriendly ‘friend’, Fielding is completely convincing as a young, gauche attorney. This Portia sees the threat that Antonio poses to her marital bliss. She sees the homoerotic passion of Antonio and Bassanio’s embrace. When all are eventually united, her future ‘happiness’ is expressed in a closing tableau as Portia, blonde wig in hand and crippled by a single Perspex high heel, dances in introspective dying swan isolation.
Susannah Fielding is hilarious as the blond bimbo Portia, surrounded by neon lights and glitteringly gold costumes.
And then there is Susannah Fielding's remarkable southern belle Portia - a portrait of dumb-blonde, prom-girl prissiness complete with teased hair and high heels and who, rather like the lead in Legally Blonde, turns out to be a deadly sharp operator in the courtroom. Fielding gives the standout performance here.
Susannah Fielding’s terrific Portia sheds her bouffant wig and proves herself more quick-witted than expected as the visiting lawyer. By the end, like Princess Di she has discovered that there are three people in her marriage.
An outstanding Susannah Fielding plays Portia as Dolly Parton’s skinny sister, all fake tan, cascading blonde wig and h2 southern twang. At first Portia appears to be an air head, but when she sets out to save Antonio’s life, you realise this is just an act. Off goes her wig and she reinvents herself as an astute brunette lawyer. It’s a wonderful Legally Blonde moment.
Portia, stupendously performed by Susannah Fielding.
Susannah Fielding’s ditsy blonde bombshell Portia is a delight, especially in the casket scenes when her wit bounces off the words of her waiting woman and co host Nerissa.
And Portia? Gasps and giggles its Barbie Portia. Susannah Fielding in the bravest and maddest of performances flounces and pouts in a ra-ra skirt. The fairy tale plot about her suitors is transplanted to a TV game show (choose the casket, win a bride!). Indeed her disguise as Balthazar the lawyer evokes the progress of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Portia is a spoilt heiress (though she takes a moving moment when she takes off her blonde wig and stilettos). Shylocks final defeat by Portia – a nastily contemptuous Portia, spiting “Jew” and relishing his ruin – leaves you shocked, untruimphant, tearful for him. It’s magnificent.
Her transformation from TV star to bimbo to wise judge seems entirely improbable but there is no doubt she is an actress of versatile talent.