Director's Notes

The Merchant of Venice was written between 1596 and 1598, midway in Shakespeare’s creative life – it comes after Richard II and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and precedes Much Ado About Nothing and Henry IV Parts I and II. The play has an undeniably dark side but is a comedy – with Shakespeare, tragedy ends in death, comedy ends in marriage. All his comedies conclude with a wedding, often several weddings: there is happy ending in the union of two people who love each other. But the play is essentially about money.

"The curse never fell upon our nation till now; I never felt it till now..." - Shylock—Act 3, Scene 1

Venice was the greatest and most successful centre of trade and commerce in Europe, largely because the Jews were allowed to live in Venice and to lend money, something forbidden to Christians. A History Usury of 1561 tells us: ‘ it is almost incredible what gain the Venetians receive by the usury of the Jews……by reason whereof the Jews are out of measure wealthy in these parts.’ Shakespeare and his fellow Elizabethans would never have seen a Jew – they were banished from England in 1298 and not re-admitted until 1648. So over 300 years  Jewish people  had become creatures of legend,  bugaboos to frighten naughty children,  wicked infidels who hated Christians and went about poisoning their water, kidnapping their children and using their blood to make Passover biscuits, ruining them if they could. But neither the play nor Shakespeare can be called anti-semitic – what the Elizabethans thought had no basis in reality.

"I hate him for he is a Christian..." - Shylock—Act 1, Scene 3

Indeed, the play is about money rather than about moneylending: Venice is about money. Shylock lends it, Bassanio borrows it, Antonio is like to die for it, Jessica steals it, she and Lorenzo squander it ( the 80 ducats they spend in a single night is about 4000 Australian dollars). Antonio and Shylock represent the getting and spending of money. The relationship between them is not about a Jew and a Gentile but about two men who hate each other. Race is a factor but there’s no doubt who started it – Antonio, from an antipathy to the lending of money for interest, ignoring the fact that Venice couldn’t have survived without it and that the Jews were the only people who were allowed to do so by the State.

"While I live, I’ll fear no other thing, so sore as keeping safe Nerissa’s ring..." - Gratiano—Act 5, Scene 1

The romantic side of The Merchant centres on Portia and her seat of Belmont, a romantic and fairy tale world where money isn’t a problem because there’s so much of it. Portia’s immense wealth links the two halves of the play. It’s unlikely that Bassanio would be going to Belmont if he hadn’t received ‘fair speechless messages’ from her eyes: he’s broke and he needs to make a good marriage – love and marriage were not essentially connected before the last century . He certainly fancies her, he probably comes to fall in love with her, but her money is the starting point. But as Nerissa tells us that the right casket ‘will no doubt never be chosen by any rightly but one whom you shall rightly love’, we can be sure the right man chooses the right casket.

Life and death drama, comedy, romance, a trial scene: Shakespeare mixed the ingredients for this perennial favourite with a sure and certain hand.

"...look how the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold..." - Lorenzo—Act 5, Scene 1

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Reviews

"Cottrell has assembled a 13-member cast that more than maintains Sport For Jove’s reputation for excellence not just in Shakespeare but in all its large-ensemble works."
"Central to this is a commanding grasp of the requirements of Shakespeare's language. Here the cast excels. Articulation and projection is superb. The dialogue is rhythmic without becoming sing-song or glib. Scenes progress with speed and imagination and the story feels effortlessly alive. Sport for Jove has grasped this play, coloured and shaped it into a living whole. It's a pleasure to discover it with them."
"Director Richard Cottrell moves the show along at a comedy clip; the tragedy happens in quieter moments, never missed or fully overshadowed, but never maudlin. It’s an invigorating take on the play, it’s clever and sophisticated."
"Cottrell has the play on an even keel. Dramatic scenes achieve middling heights. Comic scenes elicit mid-strength chuckles. There’s a bit of stand-and-deliver to be endured but the depth of field we’ve come to expect from Sport for Jove is apparent throughout..."

Cast & Crew

Cast

Salerio / Prince of Morocco
Gratiano
Solanio
Nerissa
Antonio
Lorenzo
Shylock
Duke / Old Gobbo / Prince of Aragon
Jessica
Lancelot / Tubal / Gaoler
Beatrice

Crew

Parquetry Floor Design
Designer
Sound Design / Videography
Stage Manager
Assistant Stage Manager
Assistant Stage Manager
Set Construction
Director
Lighting Designer

Venues / FAQ’s

York Theatre, Seymour Centre

The York Theatre is the largest theatre in the Seymour and has a seating capacity of 788 in a semi-circular, amphitheatre configuration, featuring a thrust stage.

Lennox Theatre, Riverside Theatre Parramatta

This venue is a multi-use performance space with flexible seating which allows a large number of seating configurations in both theatre or cabaret style.

The seating capacity depends on the configuration chosen by the hirer.