Reviewed by Aldo Longobardi
What makes Edwin Kemp Attril so fascinating as a director is his ability to transform classic texts into smorgasbords of contemporary social relevance, leaving no line unturned for comic or dramatic impact. His treatment of Shakespeare’s anti-Semitic take on Jews sees Shylock in a contemporary Australian perspective, where the “Jew” is a representation of the minority or outcast. Set against the boppy art-deco vibrance of the 1960s, this production explores the things we do for love, and the lengths we go to for our hatred.
Attril’s casting plays to strengths of the tight ensemble. He has made deliberate choices with gender-swapping and has done so successfully. More interesting than Christian Antonio (Matthew Agius) being in debt to Jewish Shylock (Lavinia Emmett-Grey) is the fact that Antonio is also in debt to a woman who then comes after her pound of flesh. Agius and Emmett-Grey create their characters’ detest for each other with conviction, but also suggest a suppressed sexual tension as a result of the gender switching which the limitations of the text sadly restrict from resolution.
Sophia Simmons and Emma Kew as Salarino and Salario are the most inspired of the gender-switched characters, serving as gossipy coke-snorting secretaries to the Merchant and ‘barrel-girls’ in the 60s game-show makeover that the production absurdly takes on at various points. This clever and kitsch interpretation is further aided by Laurence Croft and Lawrence Ben’s caricatured portrayals of the two princes after the affections of Portia (Masha Ejova). Ejova and Shaez Mortimer as maidservant Nerissa work bringing pace and cunning to these two women who know how to get what they want.
Alex Antoniou and Jessica Carroll as the loved-up and lusty Lorenzo and Jessica ham up their onstage passion delightfully. As each of the characters start to pair up, chasing each other off stage and rushing back on again suggestively half-clothed, the production takes a farcical turn for the best! The Guild’s ‘Merchant’ is slick, fun, and definitely sexed-up!