The Merchant of Venice

GENESIAN THEATRE: With a carnival atmosphere, the daring of a far larger theatre company and the talent to pull it off, The Merchant of Venice is well worth your attendance.
The Merchant of Venice
Take a moment to think about the kind of night you would expect from a non-professional theatre company, operating out of a tiny restored church and performing another tired old classic from Shakespeare. Picture that in your mind. Now completely forget it.

Director Constanine Costi takes his audience by surprise from the word go with the sudden assault of a song-and-dance number, 50s beach attire for his Shakespearean cast and a giant flashing VENICE sign that dominates the background of her scenes. Everything you need to know about this play is encapsulated in that sign: glitzy, energetic, self-consciously tacky and in-your-face. But by god, it works.

Productions of Shakespeare largely fall into two categories: the well-meaning but inevitably dull traditional play; and the desperately modern, ultimately superficial reinterpretation. Costi’s Merchant of Venice is neither. Maybe it’s his choice of one of Shakespeare’s slightly less familiar and less done-to-death plays but this production felt genuinely fresh and inspired. His staging is creative and original and the transformation of Venice into a hedonistic beach resort shows us a society with a pretty face and a cankerous heart. Lives are transformed into game shows, citizens are unapologetic for their casual cruelty and prejudice and everyone laughs and smiles as the wheels spin out of control.

It is a testament to the skill and talent of the cast that this play, though over-the-top, never feels so. At the appearance of the Prince of Morocco we come dangerously close to the ridiculous yet in the hands of Brendan Cain this clown act is charming instead of cringing. And special note should be given to Geoff Sirmai, who handles the caricatured Jew Shylock with a humanity that inspires great empathy. Stephen Lloyd Coombs is also well worth noting as Bassanio.

With the atmosphere of a carnival, the daring of a far larger theatre company and the talent to more than pull it off, The Merchant of Venice is well worth your attendance.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Merchant of Venice
By Wiliam Shakespeare
Director: Constantine Costi
Assistant Director: Michael Costi
Set Design: John Harrison
Costume Design: Alice Joel
Lighting Design: Michael Schell
Cast: Geoff Sirmai, Andy Fraser, Tiffany C. Stoecker, Emily Sheehan, Harriet Gordon Anderson, Stephen Lloyd Coombs, Ray Mainsbridge, Brendan Cain, Jasper Garner Gore, Serena Weatherall, Dimitri Armatas

Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent Street Sydney
18 February – 31 March 2012-02-21
Bookings: (02) 8019 0276 or www.genesiantheatre.com.au

Jacqui Dent

Tuesday 21 February, 2012

About the author

Jacqui Dent is an emerging writer living in Sydney. Her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, The Channelling and on ABC Radio National. Read more at www.jacquident.net and find her on Twitter @jacquident.