Huge effort has gone into Emu Heights Theatre Company’s production of The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare – and it has undoubtedly paid off. The show has been interpreted by director Ian Zammit with a comic and contemporary slant on issues like gambling, racism, greed, deceit, power, revenge, love and loyalty.
Many actors play more than one role and the transformations are consistently skilful and convincing. John Michael Burdon is dignified, solemn and anxious as Antonio, seated, left, Christian merchant of Venice. Minutes later he is the frenetic clown Launcelot Gobbo, servant to Shylock, the Jewish money lender. In the photo, top, Shylock (played by Errol Henderson), left, watched by his daughter Jessica (Jessica Belle Keogh), negotiates the terms of a loan to Bassanio (Luke Middlebrook).
Emily Elise is an energetic and mischievous Nerissa, lower right, with impeccable timing, maid to Portia (Julia Kennedy Scott), centre, the rich heiress courted by a series of suitors. In an instant, Emily is any one of a number of diverse characters in supporting roles. David Attrill moves with ease from being the Duke of Venice, to Shylock’s enigmatic Jewish friend Tubal and then shambling Old Gobbo, father to Launcelot. James Hartley is Solanio, Christian investor colleague to Antonio and then Prince of Morocco,below, pompous and scheming suitor to Portia.
But it’s not really fair to single out any performer above another. There is no weak link – only one or two minor roles ideal for giving young and less experienced actors a chance to develop their skills. Here they are filled very ably by two Year 11 students from Nepean Creative and Performing Arts High School at Emu Plains, Emily Yali, left above, and Kodie Amos. And that’s part of Ian’s purpose – to provide training and professional experience for young and emerging actors, alongside established professionals, especially those who live local to Penrith or in western Sydney. Ian’s attitude is warm and supportive, while also ensuring discipline and structure.
Ian’s program notes are generous in detail about his choice of biting satire as the tone of the production and the relevance of so much of the play to today’s preoccupation with financial success and celebrity. The notes also ring with pride in the skills and achievements of local actors and production workers. It seems a recipe for success with local high schools, where students can laugh at the attitudes of their own contemporaries reflected on stage and ask questions after performances.
Don’t miss this production of The Merchant of Venice. Click here for booking and production information.