Merchant of Venice is riveting Shakespeare

Emily AceSouth Western Times
Mitchell Butel stars in Bell Shakespeare’s production of the Merchant of Venice at BREC on Saturday 5 August.
Camera IconMitchell Butel stars in Bell Shakespeare’s production of the Merchant of Venice at BREC on Saturday 5 August. Credit: Prudence Upton

Proactive, incredibly entertaining and deeply funny are the words three-time Helpmann Award winner Mitchell Butel uses to describe his latest production The Merchant of Venice, in which he portrays the defiant Jewish moneylender, Shylock.

“It ticks all the boxes,” Butel said.

“It such a kind of suspenseful, compelling Shakespeare – it has got the best courtroom scene that was probably ever written.

“All the modern courtroom dramas – A Few Good Men and Boston Legal – they all spring from this massive courtroom scene in this play and to do it is a huge thrill.”

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Butel plays opposite the talented Jessica Tovey as Portia in the intense scenes, who he described as a powerful woman.

“Jess is amazing, I mean she is famous for doing Home and Away and Wonderland on TV, but she is incredible as Portia, super smart, super sexy, super sassy – all the ‘s’ words,” he laughed.

Butel said despite loving all the different mediums of acting, theatre had a special place in his heart.

“I love seeing the live audiences and hearing all their responses – their gasps of terror, laughs and applause,” he said.

“I particularly love working for the Bell Shakespeare company, they are such an awesome group so it is a real thrill to be back with them.”

In a nutshell, the play follows antagonist Shylock who demands a pound of flesh from the merchant of Venice after he defaults on a loan he needed to bail out his love-struck friend Bassiano – who in turn needed the money to woo the beautiful and wealthy heiress Portia.

Although the tale was penned by Shakespeare more than 400 years ago, Butel said the themes are still relevant in today’s world.

“Basically it’s an exploration of what it is to be different, racial differences, religious differences, class differences – and those kind of challenges still face us very much today in Australia and all through the world, so I think it’s very powerful still on that level,” he said.

“There is a big speech I have in it about “hath not a Jew eyes, hath not a Jew hands” and the notion that we are all fed with the same food, are subject to the same diseases and are healed by the same means.

“Even though we have Facebook, computers and what not now, we still haven’t changed – we still are the same humans as we were in 1590, so I think it has a lot to say.

“Because the language is so beautiful, it allows people to bring their association and their own lives to it as well which is the power of it.”

Shylock had been “a bucket-list role” for Butel for some time, and after five weeks of rehearsals and three weeks of touring, he is ready to bring the character to life on stage at the Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre on Saturday.

“He is kind of one of those dream parts because even though he is a very flawed, complicated man, he is so incredibly intelligent and dangerous – it is a real thrill to get your teeth into something like that,” he said.

“I can’t wait to see your beautiful town, I have been googling it on the net – it looks cool,” he laughed.

Butel said you do not have to be a Shakespeare fan to enjoy the show which is accessible to all ages.

“It really is a beautifully designed show, so I think people will really love it on many different levels,” he said.

“It is one of the greatest stories ever written, so you can’t go wrong.”

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