Planning is under way for the 2020 Shakespeare in the Park Whanganui production to be staged at the Bason Botanic Gardens.

Next year's production will see a little slice of 16th century Venice brought to Whanganui with the play The Merchant of Venice.

Arguably Shakespeare's darkest comedy, the play explores issues of greed, religious persecution, revenge and sexism.

These intense and still relevant themes are set among a cast of misfits and love-struck ne'er do wells, bringing moments of levity and laughter to what could otherwise be challenging content.

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Why Shakespeare decided to write these themes into a comedy format is still debated by scholars and offers a fantastic opportunity for actors to explore tragedy and comedy within the same play.

The Merchant of Venice is responsible for many famous lines that we still use in common parlance today - "a pound of flesh" and "love is blind".

It also features one of Shakespeare's most famous villains, Shylock.

The play overtly explores Christian persecution and mistrust of Jews in the 16th century.

At this time in history, Christians were not permitted to lend money, but in a society such as Venice, dependent on foreign trade, borrowing and lending of capital were necessary.

This is where the Jewish population came in. Jews migrated to Venice to fill this void and by charging interest on their loans became wealthy.

This was threatening to the Christian hierarchy who on the one hand reviled the Jewish population but on the other were dependent on them financially.

Legal persecution and restriction of Jews was the result and this play, in many ways, is a no-holds-barred exploration of this tension.

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These themes echo global religious tensions today, particularly between migrant Muslim and Christian communities which makes The Merchant of Venice feel very contemporary again.

Director Karen Craig hopes the production will provoke conversations on the theme of religious persecution.

"Just because a person is Muslim, that does not make them a terrorist. Just because a person is Christian, that does not make them good. Passion is one thing; fundamentalism is quite another. It denies the human," Craig says.

The production team is excited to stage this production in Whanganui and now just needs a cast of local actors to bring this poignant piece to life.

Auditions will be held on Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18. Auditions are by appointment only and exceptions can be made if either of these dates is not suitable. To book a time to audition contact Karen Craig on 06 347 2067, 021 132 3939 or email movwhanganui@gmail.com. Audition monologues are available to download at shakespeareintheparkwhanganui.com.