Theatre: The Merchant of Venice

13 February 2019

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7 – 16 March @ New Fortune Theatre, University of WA ·
Presented by Graduate Dramatic Society ·

A contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is sure to resonate with modern audiences, in the light of today’s far-right extremist groups and recent anti-Semitic attacks. Presented by the Graduate Dramatic Society at UWA’s New Fortune Theatre, this version is set in 1938 and directed by Lucy Eyre.

The story follows Portia, heiress to a large fortune and forced into marriage by an unorthodox method, stipulated by her late father. This attracts suitors from all over the world, which sets in motion a fateful transaction. Merchant Antonio must default on a large loan from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender  he abused and, in turn, the vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment. The demand tests the laws of Venice at a time when the rise of fascism in Europe threatens to quash the Venetians’ bohemian lifestyle, while strengthening anti-Semitic attitudes.

“If I’m going to direct a play, I have to be passionate about its themes,” Eyre, who has a PhD in performing  in relation to understanding why people are racist or why they discriminate against others. The Merchant of Venice is known for the Jewish character Shylock and the play mentions the history of anti-Semitic insults and abuse he’s experienced in Venice. Various incidents occur during the play that accumulate and compel Shylock to seek revenge. Shakespeare has written some wonderful plays that deal with important, timeless issues – I directed Othello for the Hills Shakespeare Festival in 2014 for similar reasons, although the plays are very different.”

First performing in the UK, Eyre has been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and, after moving to WA, made her debut with Playlovers in The Pirates of Penzance in 1993 and went on to appear in numerous productions at KADS Theatre.

In recent years, she has performed at the Dolphin and Marloo Theatres, Kidogo Arthouse and Koorliny Arts Centre  in All My Sons, Gypsy, Never Give All of the Heart and Stepping Out. As a director, Eyre has several credits  including shows at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and the Blue Room and Regal Theatres. In 2004, she wrote her first full-length play Conundrum, then Three On, One Off which was nominated for best new play at  the 2010 Equity Awards. Eyre was also co-writer and co-performer in the cabaret Chicks and Flicks for a Downstairs at the Maj season.

“Each play has its own challenges, including the logistics of getting up to 20 people in the same room,” she said. “My main aim with The Merchant of Venice is to create a production that will resonate with audiences in 2019,  even though it’s set in 1938. With the rise of far-right extremist groups and recent anti-Semitic attacks in Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the world, The Merchant of Venice is still relevant andimportant.”

The Merchant of Venice plays at 7.30pm March 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15 and 16. Tickets are $35, $25 concession.  Book at or call 6488 2440 between 12pm and 4pm weekdays.

Please note: the play contains adult themes and anti-Semitic language and is recommended for ages 12 and up.

The New Fortune Theatre is located at the University of WA, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley.

More info:

Pictured: Melissa Merchant, left, as Nerissa is a loyal friend to Portia (Grace Edwards).
Photo credit: Myles Wright, costumes: Merri Ford

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Maureen Levy

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