• Monday, March 04, 2024


‘The Merchant of Venice 1936’ review: A timely take on dangers of global fascism

The production (currently on tour) doesn’t pull many punches nor does it offer a particularly radical interpretation of Shakespeare’s work

A scene from the play ‘The Merchant of Venice 1936’ (Photo: Marc Brenner)

By: Roshan Doug

Not since 1945 have anti-Semitism, Zionism, and the Israeli/Palestine conflict been so predominant and divisive as they are today. As such, The Merchant of Venice 1936 is deeply apt and timely.

Directed by Brigid Larmour, the production encapsulates the dangers of global fascism whilst at the same time providing a localised prism through which to see the toxic intolerance and hatred of otherness.

Set in the decadent, Edwardian period of the 1930s upper class Britain – with lavish dresses, cricket jumpers, cravats and double breasted suits – it has strange echoes of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. However, with words and images of Oswald Mosley, the Blackshirts, and the Union Jack as the backdrop, we see a dark, sinister side to the roots that subsequently gave rise to the horrors that engulfed Europe.

Led (and Co-adapted) by Tracy-Ann Oberman, this is a pleasing, relatively innocuous and inoffensive piece of work.

Oberman as Shylock in the play (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Oberman does a fine job as the hateful, money lender Shylock, hell-bent on drawing her bond of extracting a pound of flesh from Antonio. She delivers an excellent, riveting performance that is insightful and intelligent. She plays Shylock without resorting to hyperbolic gestures, language or intonation but with just the right degree of both contemptibility and sympathy. She does a commendable balancing act of making us wonder whether Shylock is ‘as an inhuman wretch/incapable of pity’ or a victim of a certain kind prejudice and injustice.

The production (currently on tour) doesn’t pull many punches nor does it offer a particularly radical interpretation of Shakespeare’s work. It isn’t contentious nor is it in danger of attracting public protest.

Apart from shortening the text and changing Shylock into a female character – a formidable, domineering Jewish woman who harbours all the resentment of her people against the Christians – the play remains faithful to the original Elizabethan story. And this is all well and good. Oberman even pulls off the crude Jewish accent without drawing too much attention to what she might be accused of.

Perhaps this is just nit-picking because overall the production is very enjoyable and littered with humour. It is certainly a tale of our times and thus well worth seeing.


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