Shake­speare’s Por­tia suit­stovey

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Theatre - Tanya Mac­naughton

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.”

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