Tracy Ann Oberman stars in Leeds Playhouse show

Tracy Ann Oberman is a well-known TV star, having had parts in EastEnders, Friday Night Dinner, Toast of London. 

She’s now coming to Leeds Playhouse to play Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, directed by Brigid Larmour.

Because most shows at Leeds Playhouse are created to make a significant political or social point, in a creative response to antisemitism in Britain, the production will be set in 1930s London.

Oberman was inspired to reframe the play by her great-grandmother’s experiences as a single mother in the East End. As children, her grandmother and uncles were on the front line at The Battle of Cable Street, when the Jewish community of East London blocked the streets to prevent Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists marching through. As a result, Oberman reimagines Shylock as an East End matriarch, a refugee from pogroms in Russia. The part is normally played by a man, so it’s interesting to see Leeds Playhouse yet again mix things up and put a new perspective on a classic piece.

Shylock is now a widow running a small business from a dark, cramped terrace 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.

Director 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 make us forget how much support there was for fascism here in the 30s.  It is dangerous to forget.”

Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining said: “The Merchant of Venice will be an important part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. Reframing the production within Tracy Ann’s family history, and the historical events in the East End of London in the 1930s, will deliver a powerfully emotional theatre experience. I look forward to welcoming Brigid, Tracy Ann and the whole company to the Playhouse to share this production with audiences here in Leeds.”

To me, this production seems to be a preachy Shakespearean adaptation, but I hope to be very much proved wrong. Don’t miss the production when it comes to Leeds Playhouse from 20th – 31st October.

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