The dialogue in this production has power not only because of the genius of the writer, but the quality of the cast.
Mitchell Butel and Eugene Gilfedder in Bell Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice.
“All that glisters is not gold”, but have no fear, as Bell Shakespeare’s latest offering, The Merchant of Venice, certainly is.
Bell Shakespeare needs little to no introduction by now, as the Sydney based company have been dazzling audiences around Australia for the past 27 years.
Although technically a comedy, The Merchant of Venice is perhaps best known for its dramatic scenes, which thankfully remain sword fight and (relatively) blood free, and instead comes to a head in a masterful courtroom scene.
The undertones, nay rife central themes of strained relationships between secular societies, religions, and the haves and have nots, are still widely applicable to today's world, making parts of the dialogue particularly confronting, almost chilling when related to the goings on around us in 2017.
Of course, the dialogue in this case has power not only because of the genius of the writer, but the quality of the cast.
Shylock is one of the most coveted roles in the Shakespearean canon, and Mitchell Butel, in short, nails it. He is restrained, yet the kindness and strength of his character, in the face of blatant adversity and discrimination, almost makes you ashamed in its boldness, and wanting to apologise on behalf of fellow humans – both real and conceived by Shakespeare.
Jacob Warner as dim-witted servant Launcalot almost steals the show, as even before he opens his mouth; from his expressions and gestures to his perfectly fitting suit, he looks like he was born in ye olde world, and once he starts speaking, Shakespeare's words roll off his tongue like his first language.
The feisty ladies in this play radiate tomfoolery and chicanery. Jessica Tovey as Portia and Catherine Davies as Nerissa portray the ridiculousness of their sequestered existence beautifully, giving more insight than usual into the characters' personalities and thought processes. Felicity McKay has a quieter role as Shylock's runaway daughter, and depicts the dichotomy of her character's situation and temperament with a peaceful ease.
Damien Strouthos (Bassanio), Fayssal Bazzi (Gratiano) and Shiv Palekar (Lorenzo/Morocco) have a beautifully blokey friendship, and the integration that the male characters especially use, of modern spoken and body language, is inspired.
Michael Hankin shone as a costume designer; his tones were muted yet intriguing and the quality of the gentlemen’s suits and their fit was outstanding, perfectly placing them in well-heeled modern Italy. The fabric and simple beauty of the cut of the ladies' dresses made them timeless, a conservative but clever choice.
Hankin's attempt to remove clutter from the stage by stripping most of the workings and traditional trappings and instead making visible the lighting, costume racks and even costume changes, somewhat diminished the beauty of the language at times, drawing eyes to surrounding movements and goings on, instead of enabling the play's true hero to shine. The plot's subterfuge and content of hush-hush conversations were also somewhat thwarted by the choice to keep each character on stage throughout. The language and actors/characters should be more luminous than the backdrop.
Music is used sparingly but thoughtfully, and paired with the timing of the subject matter has the power to draw tears.
The Merchant of Venice is a mixture of light and shadow, fun and despair, and this cast and direction has made the rhetoric and roles within this production amazingly relatable, not an easy feat when dealing with Shakespeare. You will laugh, you may cry, and you will most definitely consider the current state of the world, how it echoes the past and how it may or may not change for the future.
The long and the short of it is, catch it if you can.
4 out of 5 Stars
The Merchant of Venice
By William Shakespeare
Director Anne-Louise Sarks
Set & Costume Designer Michael Hankin
Lighting Designer Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer Max Lyandvert
Voice Coach Jess Chambers
Dramaturg Benedict Hardie
Cast: Fayssal Bazzi
Presented by Bell Shakespeare and Perth Theatre Trust
State Theatre Centre WA
9 – 12 August