The Merchant of Venice at top of the list


Jessica Tovey.
Jessica Tovey.

LOOK at any list of William Shakespeare’s 10 strongest female characters and Portia from The Merchant of Venice is usually towards the top.

So what better role for actor Jessica Tovey to make her Bell Shakespeare debut than with this leading lady in the company’s Australian tour.

“She’s incredibly intelligent, funny and perceptive,” Tovey, who grew up in Sydney, said.

“She’s not all good but no human being is. She’s a bit racist and quite malicious when she wants to be and I think that’s fascinating.

“I never wanted to play her as a heroine because I think human beings are more interesting than heroes; people with faults are far more fascinating and in this play none of the characters are completely good or completely bad.

“I’m not one of these people who thinks Shakespeare was a feminist, but you can certainly see he was aware women were as capable as men; she certainly runs rings around the men in this play and there are portions where Portia is really driving the drama and making the decisions of what unfolds in the story. She’s complicated but she’s awesome.”

Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks, The Merchant of Venice is set in Italy and follows two main entwined storylines examining racism and patriarchal society.

“It deals with the outsider, both from a race point of view in the treatment of Shylock (played by Mitchell Butel), and women as outsiders as well,” Tovey said.

“Our interpretation highlights the lack of agency women often have in society, as well as one of the characters battling with their identity through their sexuality.”

Tovey was last in Perth 10 years ago for Telethon during her time on Home and Away and said she looked forward to the tour taking her to State Theatre Centre of WA, Bunbury and Albany.

“One of the best parts of doing a production with Bell is that they make such a wonderful effort to take shows all around the country and it’s not city-specific,” she said.

“Certain cities have flavours of theatre but Bell always manages to make work that translates to a national audience.”

THE ESSENTIALS

What: The Merchant of Venice

Where: Heath Ledger Theatre

When: August 9 to 12

Tickets: www.ticketek.com.au

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