Saturday, October 14, 2017


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks
Bell Shakespeare
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 21 October

Reviewed by Len Power 13 October 2017

Probably written between 1596 and 1599, ‘The Merchant Of Venice’ tells the story of a merchant, Antonio, who defaults on a loan from a much abused Jewish money-lender, Shylock, who then demands that the default agreement be exacted literally – a pound of the merchant’s flesh.  How legal argument is used to win the day against Shylock is exciting theatre but the extreme penalty he then suffers is now extremely troubling.

Anne-Louise Sarks has directed a visually pleasing production in a modern autumn setting designed by Michael Hankin, who also designed the costumes.  The lighting design of Paul Jackson and sound by Max Lyandvert add considerable atmosphere to the production.
Mitchell Butel as Shylock and the Company of 'The Merchant Of Venice'

Commencing the play with most of the company reciting a Christian prayer with Shylock and his daughter obviously absent but observing was an inspired idea, setting the scene for what was to come.

Performances by the cast are excellent.  Jessica Tovey gives a performance of considerable depth as Portia, believable as a modern young woman with the usual hopes and dreams who is also a formidable legal battler in court.  The emotional edge she brings to her ‘Quality of Mercy’ speech is a highlight of the show.
Jessica Tovey as Portia

Mitchell Butel plays Shylock with a quiet intensity devoid of cliché.  The pain he has suffered from discrimination is clearly shown but his determination to exact his revenge in the courtroom is all the more shocking when we see the emotions he has kept in check for so long.  It’s a great performance.

Mitchell Butel as Shylock, Felicity McKay as Jessica
Jo Turner gives a strongly courageous performance as the racist Antonio, never pulling back from the negative aspects of his character.
Jo Turner as Antonio

Jacob Warner commands the stage in his role as the clerk, Launcelot.  He gives us an amusing all-knowing character and his comic timing is excellent.  There is also fine work by Damien Strouthos, Shiv Pelkar, Anthony Taufa and Eugene Gilfedder.
Jacob Warner as Launcelot

Catherine Davies is a delightful and refreshing Nerissa and Felicity McKay gives a very human and ultimately tragic performance as Shylock’s daughter, Jessica.
Catherine Davies as Nerissa

Although Shakespeare’s play is classified as one of his comedies, it’s the dramatic aspects of the plot that are most remembered.  In Bell Shakespeare’s new production, the comedy is certainly there and played delightfully but the play’s darker aspects now have an even stronger resonance in today’s world.

Photos by Prudence Upton

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s new ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and on ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am on Saturdays.