The Merchant of Venice 1936 - The Royal Shakespeare Company Review

The Merchant of Venice 1936 - The Royal Shakespeare Company Review

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Posted 2023-10-01 by Alison in Birmingham follow

Tue 26 Sep 2023 - Sat 10 Feb 2024



Transferring this anti-semitic tale to pre-WW2 London amid a background of fascist Oswald Mosley's rising popularity offers an intriguing plot twist for this age-old play. Added to that is Tracy-Ann Oberman as a female Shylock in this Merchant of Venice 1936.

The production is now on a UK tour to the Royal Shakespeare Company(RSC) Swan Theatre in Stratford upon Avon until Saturday October 7, where I saw it. It returns to the RSC again in January after continuing to venues including Malvern Theatres , Home in Manchester and Wilton's Music Hall in London(see all tour dates below).

With Black Shirts and the Jewish community at loggerheads, it's a neat solution to what can be a difficult play to portray in modern times. It's a clever way of explaining away the racist attitudes of not just Antonio but Portia and Gratiano whose paths cross while socialising together at suave 1930s cocktail parties.

There's a touch of dramatic licence and some extras thrown in at the beginning and end as the action leads up to the infamous Battle of Cable Street march. It was when the British Union of Fascists came head to head and were blocked by anti-racism protestors. It allows director Brigid Larmour to offer a glimmer of hope for the future, but more on that later.


Black and white film reels and photos about the rise of fascism in Britain cast long shadows as the story gets unde way. Antonio, who likes dressing up in black shirts and boots, has an air of slightly camp gangster about him. He even steals a cheeky kiss from Bassiano but this version focuses on that relationship being unrequited, unlike other productions I've seen.

Raymond Coulthard, who will be familiar from many TV roles including Emmerdale, impressively turns on and off the smile as a menacing Antonio that sends shivers down the spine, especially when facing Shylock.

Oberman, of Doctor Who and EastEnders fame, has earned the right to the juicy role of money-lender Shylock as this production was her idea. Based on her great-grandmother Annie, from the East End, you can tell she's lived and breathed this project with her finely tuned interpretation.

The accent, mannerisms and comfort in the role is authentic and will transfix you. There's a real passion there from Oberman. A female Shylock seems to fit better with the mother and daughter relationship issues between Shylock and Jessica too.



It's a strong production for women all-round with Hannah Morrish as a fiesty Portia. There's a touch of the Mitford sisters about her as a horse-riding wealthy heiress in flowing silk dress.

At only two hours, this Merchant of Venice is short, sharp and wastes no time getting to the point. Even at the end, it doesn't linger on Portia and Bassiano but cuts back to the Cable Street blockade where it's more Oberman's great-grandmother than Shylock asking the audience to "stand with" the Jewish community against fascists.

"We're stronger together" isn't quite Shakespeare but makes for a powerful and suitably modern ending to this clever adaptation.

The Merchant of Venice 1936 is an exciting, fascinating and passionate twist on a classic. Its messages feel relevant and urgent so don't miss this superb adaptation while you have chance.

The Merchant of Venice 1936 continues at the RSC's Swan Theatre, in Waterside, Stratford-upon-Avon, until Saturday October 7 and returns from Wednesday January 24 until Saturday February 10, 2024. Tickets cost from £25. For more information and tickets visit the RSC website here.

The UK tour will also visit:

Wycombe Swan Theatre in High Wycombe - Tuesday October 10 to Saturday October 14
Malvern Theatres in Malvern - Tuesday 17 October to Saturday October 21.
Churchill Theatre, Bromley - Tuesday October 24 to Saturday October 28
New Theatre, Cardiff - Tuesday October 31 to Saturday November 4
Wilton's Music Hall in London - Tuesday November 7 to Saturday November 11
Theatre Royal, York - Tuesday November 14 to Saturday November 18
Home, Manchester - Tuesday November 28 to Saturday December 2
RSC Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon - Wednesday January 24 to Saturday February 10, 2024

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264949 - 2023-09-30 15:40:57

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