Friday, 21 July 2017

The Merchant of Venice, July 20, 2017 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, Bell Shakespeare 
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 30, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 20, 2017
Stars: ***1/2

 Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri July 21, 2017 & later in print. KH
Jo Turner, Mitchell Butel, photo Prudence Upton 
In the past, as in this modern world, seemingly good, generous or religious people can be cruel, vindictive and tribal in their treatment of those who they consider different – and so it goes in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

Anne-Louise Sarks’ spirited production for Bell Shakespeare views the play through a 21st century lens, with the young Venetians dressed in contemporary garb and revelling like modern, privileged, narcissistic night-clubbers.

The difference is that these young people identify as Christians and, as such, they condemn the Venetian Jews’ practice of lending money at exorbitant interest rates.

The successful, popular but disconsolate merchant, Antonio (Jo Turner), borrows a large sum from Shylock (Mitchell Butel), a Jewish moneylender, to assist his friend, Bassanio (Damien Strouthos), to woo the lady, Portia (Jessica Tovey).

Although Antonio has abused and spat upon him, Shylock agrees to an interest-free loan but his contract demands a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he cannot repay the loan within three months.

The beginning of this production is vivacious and mischievous, with characters delivering good-humoured laughs – until Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Felicity McKay), abandons, betrays and steals from her doting father to elope with Bassanio to Belmont.

Butel is exceptional as Shylock, giving a sensitive, nuanced performance that balances Shylock’s piety and moral code with his humour, his vengefulness and, finally, his despair when he loses his worldly goods, his daughter, his religion and his dignity.

Even when not in scenes, Butel lingers at the perimeter as a reminder of Shylock’s vendetta and his cruel suffering, his head lowered, and, at the end, stripped of his religious garb.

The court scene is compelling (although not as riveting as it could be) when Shylock demands his pound of flesh until Portia annihilates his argument, but the second half of the production flags after Shylock’s courtroom failure.

It is hard not to wonder whether Shakespeare condemned or condoned the Venetians’ abusive treatment of Shylock.  These Venetian Christians speak about love but demand money; they prate about mercy but show none.
 Mitchell Butel, photo Prudence Upton

Eugene Gilfedder provides two marvellous cameos as Arragon, Portia’s supercilious suitor, and as Tubal, Shylock’s temperate, Jewish friend.

Jacob Warner’s Launcelot is a charmingly boyish clown while Damien Strouthos (Bassanio), Fayssal Bazzi (Gratiano) and Shiv Palekar  (Lorenzo) make a robust band of playfellows, although Turner’s Antonio lacks the charisma needed to make Antonio the beloved centre of this merry gang.

Meanwhile, Tovey’s Portia is feisty and Catherine Davies is ebullient as her servant, Nerissa.

The final scenes of the young Venetians’ merriment, although lively and playful, feel laboured and overly long, undercutting the dynamic range of earlier scenes.

This production is diverting and challenging, and it is impossible not to compare the bigotry in this play with current socio-political situations.

By Kate Herbert 

Mitchell Butel (Shylock), Fayssal Bazzi (Gratiano), Catherine Davies (Nerissa), Eugene Gilfedder (Arragon / Tubal / Duke), Shiv Palekar (Lorenzo / Morocco), Damien Strouthos (Bassanio), Jessica Tovey (Portia), Jo Turner (Antonio) and Jacob Warner (Launcelot), Felicity McKay (Jessica).

Director - Anne-Louise Sarks
 Lighting Designer - Paul Jackson
Composer & Sound Designer - Max Lyandvert
Voice Coach -Jess Chambers
Dramaturg - Benedict Hardie
 Felicity McKay, Jessica Tovey, Shiv Palekar

No comments:

Post a Comment