Report: Revisiting Corcadorca’s Merchant of Venice 2005

Revisiting Corcadorca’s Merchant of Venice 2005 was a site-specific exhibition which aimed to “celebrate and remember” the 2005 production of The Merchant of Venice, part of the programme for Cork’s tenure as European Capital of Culture. Under the auspices of the DUETS-funded “Creation and Reception” project, led by Dr. Anne Etienne (UCC), the exhibition ran from the 13th to the 20th of July, and included a round table event at University College Cork on the 18th of July.

It is easy to overlook the significance of the 2005 The Merchant of Venice. The original event took place at several different venues around the city. The play’s street scenes took place on the pavements of Cork, the courthouse scene in Cork’s courthouse, and a disused cooperage owned by University College Cork served as Shylock’s warehouse, and also served as the location of the exhibition. The project coincided with the ten year anniversary of the original production, but also explored more broadly the role of site-specific theatre and cultural memory. The exhibition focused on sparking memories rather than recounting the event. For those not fortunate enough to have witnessed what was undoubtedly a spectacular theatrical undertaking, the exhibition offered a window into the first large-scale site-specific production in Ireland, and invited the viewer to think about site-specific theatre and its potential uses.

Within the vast hangar of the cooperage, small televisions played various scenes from the play on a loop. This evocative and thought-provoking audio visual portion was curated by Corcadorca director, and director of the original production, Pat Kiernan, in collaboration with film-maker Nicholas O’Riordan. The brief screenings were not accompanied by any explanatory material, which can appear quite disconcerting initially, until one appreciates that this exhibition does not attempt to recreate the original event but to provoke and probe memory.

Revisiting Corcadorca MofV - exhibit 1

A small room in the corner of the vast warehouse held the second portion of the exhibition, a photographic exhibit of still images of the play taken by Mike MacSweeney. The stills were suspended from the ceiling on clear fish wire, appearing almost to float in mid-air. The images were accentuated by an audio recording of the scene staged in that very corner of the warehouse; Shylock’s voice echoed around the suspended images. A combination of audio, visual, and audio-visual exhibits awaken the senses to stimulate both memory and imagination.

Revisiting Corcadorca MofV - exhibit 2

The third and final of phase of the project was a roundtable discussion with the director and actors of the original production, held in University College Cork on July 18th. The event certainly fulfilled its premise to “celebrate and remember” what was a seminal moment in contemporary Irish theatre. The actors discussed their experiences in performing in multiple locations, and how the production overcame practical issues such as funding and health and safety laws. The roundtable provided opportunity for reflection on Corcadorca’s monumental achievement, but also explored the status-quo of Irish theatre in the present decade.

The exhibition and corresponding round-table discussion offer a glimpse of a spectacular production of The Merchant of Venice and invited one to think about how Shakespeare’s plays can be re-imagined within a contemporary Irish context.  The project justly commemorates Corcadorca’s outstanding achievement, but it is not self-congratulatory or sentimental. Rather this series of events was forward-thinking, both for Shakespearean productions and Irish theatre in general. The stimulating exhibits and round-table discussion recalled the 2005 event but also examined the wealth of possibility in Irish theatre today. The recent DruidShakespeare production of Shakespeare’s history plays serves to illustrate the continuity of ambitious renderings of Shakespeare’s dramas in Ireland.

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