Tracy Ann Oberman to play Shylock

Tracy Ann Oberman stars as Shylock in new production of The Merchant of Venice

In a creative response to antisemitism in Britain, the production will be set in 1930s London

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NATIONAL TOUR: 4 September – 14 November

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Brigid Larmour

@watfordpalace | #Merchant36 |

A major co-production between five leading regional theatres in Autumn 2020, The Merchant of Venice will star Tracy Ann Oberman (EastEnders, Friday Night Dinner, Toast of London) in the role of Shylock and will be directed by Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director of Watford Palace Theatre. 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, 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.”

Tracy Ann Oberman is an English television, theatre and radio actress. Having trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama, Oberman spent four years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before joining the National Theatre. Her extensive theatrical background includes appearing with Kenneth Branagh in David Mamet’s Edmond, a run in the West End revival of Boeing-Boeing and the National Theatre’s production of Earthquakes in London. She was recently seen performing to sell out audiences in the West End opposite Amanda Holden in Stepping Out and as the lead in Fiddler On The Roof at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Oberman later returned to Chichester Festival Theatre to play a lead, opposite Rufus Hound, in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter.  She has also been seen at the Menier Chocolate Factory in Hugh Whitemore’s Pack of Lies, at the Harold Pinter Theatre in Party Time and Celebration as part of the sell out Jamie Lloyd Pinter at the Pinter season of one-act plays on the tenth anniversary of the Nobel Prize winner’s death, and as the lead in new play Mother of Him at The Park Theatre. For this role she was nominated for Best Actress at The Offies. TV credits include Doctor Who, Mistresses, Toast of London, Ricky Gervais’ Netflix hit After Life, and the critically acclaimed Friday Night Dinner, which will soon be returning for its sixth series. It has recently been announced that Tracy Ann will be joining the cast of Russell T Davies’ new Channel 4 drama, Boys, alongside Keeley Hawes, Stephen Fry and Neil Patrick Harris and Sky One’s exciting new drama Code 404 opposite Stephen Graham and Daniel Mays. Both will air later this year. Oberman has performed in more than 600 radio plays. Tracy is also a column contributor for The Guardian and was a regular contributor to the Jewish Chronicle and Red Magazine. As a playwright she has written a number of well received Radio 4 plays, including Bette and Joan and Baby Jane.

Brigid Larmour, an experienced director, producer and dramaturg, is Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Watford Palace Theatre. A text-based director, she has directed numerous Shakespeares, including a recent all-female Much Ado About Nothing at Watford Palace.  Other WPT credits include new plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker (Jefferson’s Garden), Gary Owen (Perfect Match, Mrs Reynolds and the Ruffian, We That Are Left), Neil d’Souza (Coming Up), Charlotte Keatley (Our Father), Marks and Gran (Love Me Do, Von Ribbentrop’s Watch) and Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti (Fourteen), as well as plays by Ronald Harwood and Alan Ayckbourn, and four pantomimes. She has a track record of supporting diverse voices, and casting women in traditionally male roles in Shakespeare. She championed and directed Charlotte Keatley’s game-changing play My Mother Said I Never Should at Contact Theatre, Manchester in the 80s. From 1998- 2006 she was Artistic Director of West End company Act Productions, and adviser to BBC4 Plays.

Listings information

UK Tour: 4 Sept – 14 Nov

4 – 19 Sept                   Nuffield Theatre, Southampton
                                    142-144 Above Bar Street, Southampton, SO14 7DU
                           | 023 8067 1771

22 Sept – 3 Oct             Liverpool Playhouse
                                    Williamson Square, Liverpool L1 1EL
                           | 0151 709 4776

6 – 17 Oct                     Watford Palace Theatre
20 Clarendon Rd, Watford, Hertfordshire, WD17 1JZ | 01923 225671

20 – 31 Oct                   Leeds Playhouse
Playhouse Square, Quarry Hill, Leeds LS2 7UP | 0113 213 7700

3 – 14 Nov                    Rose Theatre                            24-26 High St, Kingston upon Thames KT1 1HL                           | 020 8174 0090

The project is supported by Roman Abramovich and Chelsea Football Club’s “Say No Antisemitism Campaign”

Thank you to Trafalgar Entertainment for their support of this project