Geoff Sirmai as Shylock

January 28, 2012 Agencies
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Well known Sydney actor and community personality, Geoff Sirmai is to star as Shylock in a Sydney production of Shakespeare’s controversial classic The Merchant of Venice.
The production is set for February and March at the Genesian Theatre in Kent Street, Sydney.

Geoff Sirmai as Shylock

Directed by rising young theatre star Con Costi and with a bright young cast (of which Sirmai admits he is the ‘alteh kacker’) the production promises a powerful and sympathetic portrayal of the famous money-lender.

Sirmai, who has played many comic and serious roles on stage and screen including Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof – and who also has an MA (hons) degree in English literature from Sydney University – says it is a role he was born to play. Having studied and written about the character and the play extensively in his academic years, he leapt at the chance when he was offered the role.

“The imagined Venice of this production is sinking – in every sense. Glamorous on the surface with wild carnivals and money thrown around. But decadence, corruption and antisemitism lie just below, bubbling and seeping through. I can imagine pre-war Germany in the same light.

“And in the eye of a brewing storm are Antonio the merchant  and Shylock the money-lender.  Like all the Jews of the ghetto, Shylock is abused and subjected to brutal discrimination; he is pushed into a corner like a rat until – given the chance – he bites back.

“When Antonio recklessly finances his friend Bassanio’s quest to find both love and a place in the new world, he commits to the bargain of flesh with Shylock – a bizarre pact in a world that is alien and unjust.”

But Sirmai insists there is more to the play than the famous “Hath not a Jew eyes” speech and the infamous ‘pound of flesh’.

“There is surprising laughter and love throughout too… it is after all, also a romantic comedy, something that is often forgotten.”

An Antisemitic play? Not a bit of it, says Sirmai. It is a play about antisemitism.

“Shakespeare’s genius is to create a sympathetic and believable portrayal of love and loss, pride, abuse, hatred and revenge that transcends both its own time and all time.”

Director Costi says this production seeks to embrace both aspects of the play and produce a show loaded with surprises and unexpected twists. “It is a fun, exciting, colourful and ultimately haunting take on this extraordinary play.”

Directed by Constantine Costi, assisted by Michael Costi, The Merchant of Venice stars Andrew Fraser as Antonio, Geoff Sirmai as Shylock, Tiffany Stoecker as Portia, Emily Sheehan as Nerissa,  Harriet Gordon Anderson as Jessica, Stephen Lloyd-Coombs as Bassanio, Ray Mainsbridge as Gratiano, Brendan Cain as Lorenzo, Jasper Garner Gore as Solanio and Launcelot Gobbo,  Serena Weatherall as Salerio and Dimitri Armatas as the Duke.

Pictures by Xiaofu Wang – Geoff Sirmai as Shylock – and with Andrew Fraser as Antonio.

The Merchant of Venice plays at the Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent Street Sydney
18 Feb to 31 March. Performances Friday and Saturday nights 8pm, Sundays 4.30pm.
Tickets $25/$20 conc and groups 10+   $75 family pass (2 adults +2 children)
Bookings www.genesiantheatre.com.au  or phone (02) 8019 0276

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