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Tracy Ann Oberman to play Shylock at the Rose Theatre Kingston and on tour

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

TRACY Ann Oberman (EastEnders, Friday Night Dinner, Toast of London) is to star as Shylock in a new production of The Merchant of Venice.

Directed by Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director of Watford Palace Theatre, it runs at the Rose Theatre Kingston from November 3 to November 14, 2020, as part of a national tour.

Set in the London of the 1930s – East End, West End and City – Oberman was inspired to reframe The Merchant of Venice based on her own great grandmother’s experience as a single mother in the East End of London.

Drawing on her own family history of her grandmother and uncles who were on the front line at The Battle of Cable Street as children, Oberman reimagines Shylock as an East End matriarch, a refugee from pogroms in Russia.

The production is led by Watford Palace Theatre in partnership with Leeds Playhouse, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and the Rose Theatre.

This timely retelling sees Shylock as a widow, and a survivor, running a small business from a dark and cramped terraced house in Cable Street, trying to give her daughter Jessica a better quality of life. The aristocrats – Portia, Antonio, Lorenzo – are Mosleyites, supporters of the British Union of Fascists. Their playground is piano bars at the Savoy, bias cut silk gowns, white tie and tails.

Tracy Ann Oberman said: “I’ve always wanted to reclaim The Merchant in some way and wanted to see how it would change with a single mother female Shylock. My own great grandma and great aunts were single mothers, widows, left in the East End to run the businesses and the homes which they did with an iron fist.

“When I spoke about it to Brigid, she instantly got it, and said it gave a brilliant way into the problematic aspects of characters like Antonio and Portia – she saw them as aristocratic young Mosleyites, supporters of the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley. That led us to an East End Cable Street, with pawn shops and money lending under the counter of shmatter stalls and seamstress jobs, in the weeks leading up to Mosley’s Fascist march against ‘The Jew’ in 1936.”

Brigid Larmour said: “The great Polish critic Jan Kott called Shakespeare ‘our contemporary.’ This production brings together Tracy’s powerful stage presence as an actor with her courageous activism, in a story with acute contemporary resonance. Our national sense of pride in the ‘Britain stood alone’ view of 1940 can sometimes makes us forget how much support there was for fascism here in the 30s. It is dangerous to forget.”

The tour, which runs from September 4 to November 14, 2020, opens at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton (September 4-19) before continuing to Liverpool Playhouse (September 22 to October 3), Watford Palace Theatre (October 6–17), Leeds Playhouse (October 20–31) and Rose Theatre Kingston (November 3–14).