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Review - The Merchant of Venice: Romance, intrigue and suspense

The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Michael Futcher and Helen Howard

Presented by the QUT Bachelor of Fine Arts students

QUT Gardens Theatre

Brisbane City

The Merchant of Venice runs until October 8

It’s been 400 years since William Shakespeare’s death and yet the Bard is still going strong. It’s a little incredible to believe. Among his oeuvre are some of the best plays ever to have graced the stage.

While The Merchant of Venice might not be on everybody’s top five of Shakespeare’s works, it certainly is a play that is a little, somewhat unsung, gem. Here’s why – it’s full of romance, intrigue, and suspense, touching moments, humour, and a smattering of cross-dressing.

Done well, this show can really shine like a star. The gala night performance of The Merchant of Venice, directed by power-team Michael Futcher and Helen Howard, and performed by the second-year QUT bachelor of fine arts students was really something.

Performing this play can be no easy task, as one has to maintain a high-level of energy while making the dialogue engaging and transferable to a modern audience. However, these students pulled it off quite neatly and efficiently, bringing together a show that really fit well into this year’s celebration of Shakespeare’s death.

The story follows several different plots and sub-plots that all tie together neatly in the end like a well-balanced bouquet garni.

The first plot line follows the merchant Antonio, his friend Bassanio, and the money-lender Shylock, who is Jewish. Shylock and Antonio are bitter rivals yet for necessities sake they concede to a professional relationship. When Antonio wants to lend his friend Bassanio money, so he can send his friend on his way to woo the fair maid, Portia, Shylock requests that Antonio sign a bond which would, should he forfeit, require him to give Shylock a pound of his flesh.

When Antonio’s fortunes are wrecked, he is forced to honour this deal. The amount of suspense of whether the deal will actually be carried through that follows in the court room has to be seen to be believed.

The second thread followed Bassanio and his wooing of the beautiful Portia, whose line of suitors must undertake a cryptic task, should they wish to marry her. This plot line melds with that of Antonio and Shylock, with some clever cross-dressing on Portia’s part during the court scene. The other plots follow the friends and followers of Bassanio and Antonio as well as Shylock’s daughter, who, for love, renounces her Jewish faith and runs away with Lorenzo, friend to Bassanio.

This play made for a very interesting mix of themes such as love, mutual hatred, and revenge, and beautifully wrought dialogues which were interpreted well, with added non-verbal cues, making it easier for some of the jokes to be better understood. This made for some hilarious moments, which had the audience giggling in their seats.

The direction and co-direction by Michael Futcher and Helen Howard was expertly done, and really demonstrated what great skill they have with bringing scripts to life on stage. The casting was expertly done as well with some real stars shining through. Tom Wilson’s Antonio was excellent with his resignation to the honouring of the bond bleeding through his weary countenance. You could really feel this performance.

Another really well-cast actor was Ebony Nave, as Portia whose wit and charm were alight for all to see. And of course, one of the leading roles in the reviled Shylock was masterfully performed by Ryan Hodson, who made for a gripping incarnation of the character with a flawless accent that did not waver throughout the entire play. His performance really lead the audience to both sympathise and despise him, which really demonstrated his skilful acting. Of course, there were some genuinely amusing smaller parts in the forms of the two princes who come knocking on Portia’s door, played by Alex Neal and Martin Moolman respectively. Their energetic performances had the audience laughing at their antics and subsequent disappointments.

To sum up, this production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was a really well-fleshed and thoroughly enjoyable play. It was gripping, witty and at times beautiful with each of the actors performing their respective roles with skill and a good interpretation of their lines. These are actors ready to watch out for, and I hope we get to see more of them soon.