Tag Archives: Adam Buchanan

Merchant of Venice 1936

The Merchant of Venice 1936


Watford Palace Theatre

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE 1936 at the Watford Palace Theatre


Merchant of Venice 1936

“A vivid and moving interpretation. Disturbing, enriching and thought provoking”


Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Shylock stands centre stage at the opening of Brigid Larmour’s brave and provoking adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”; and from thereon she remains in full command of, not just the action, but the unresolved themes. Themes that she manages to turn on their head. It has long been debated whether the play is anti-Semitic or whether it is about anti-Semitism. This show removes the question from the context of the drama and places it smack bang into society as a whole.

Shylock is living under the shadow of fascism in London’s East End in 1936. Greta Zabulyte’s video backdrops, with Sarah Weltman’s soundscape, evoke the tensions that lead up to the battle of Cable Street, in which anti-fascist protesters successfully blockaded a rally of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. It is particularly shocking to be reminded that this took place on our home ground. The scenes have more than an echo of Kristallnacht. This political landscape shapes our understanding of the text and gives the characters more depth than even Shakespeare could have imagined.

Oberman gives Shylock due reason for her outrage and desire for revenge. Although she doesn’t shy away from highlighting the less savoury aspects of her personality, she is far less villainous than her persecutors. “If you prick us, do we not bleed” carries a chilling resonance in this setting. Antonio (Raymond Coulthard) and his band of Old Etonians are simultaneously ridiculous and sinister. In particular, Xavier Starr, as Gratiano, captures the essence of the bumbling Bunbury Boy in whose deceptively likeable hands, privilege can become a dangerous weapon. Hannah Morrish cuts a striking Portia, overflowing with aristocratic advantage. A true Mitford sister, you almost expect Joseph Goebbels to spring out from behind the curtain. Antonio, whose “pound of flesh” is so famously demanded of Shylock, comes out slightly more favourably. Coulthard mangers to convey, with subtle facial expressions, a half-hidden dissatisfaction with his victory in court.

Liz Cooke’s set moves between the East End streets and Portia’s brightly lit salons. The more light that is shed on the stage, however, the less we see of the underlying tensions. Some scenes dip, and consequently pull back Larmour’s passionately paced staging. But, with skilful editing the problematical finale with its dubious happy ending is replaced with something far, far more powerful. Oberman refuses to let Shylock be written out of the story, and she remains perched on the edge of the stage – a formidable presence – until she returns to lead the resistance to Mosley’s ‘Blackshirts’. It is a significant and unsettling adjunct to the story.

“The Merchant of Venice” is a difficult text, with difficult characters. Four hundred years before it was written, the entire Jewish community had been expelled from England, and not officially readmitted until the mid-seventeenth century. Four hundred years after it was written, the human drama is crucially relevant. Shakespeare’s play is contradictory, but Larmour’s, and Oberman’s, message is clear as glass. Shattering that glass doesn’t diminish it – the relevance is reflected, if not magnified, in each jagged fragment. This is a vivid and moving interpretation. Disturbing, enriching and thought provoking.



Reviewed on 2nd March 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Beauty and the Beast | ★★★★ | December 2022


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The Ruffian on the Stair

The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre

The Ruffian on the Stair

The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 31st January 2019



“Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago”


The Ruffian on the Stair gave notorious playwright, author, and library book defacer Joe Orton his first success. Today, it is rarely performed and somewhat obscured by his later work. And, whilst the play may be very much of its time, The Hope Theatre’s new production shows that his unique style of black comedy is as funny today as it was fifty years ago.

Mike (Gary Webster) was a promising young boxer – but what he does now is shrouded in mystery. All we know is that it involves a van and the attendance of meetings that will help him get “jobs”. His wife, Joyce (Lucy Benjamin), is a former prostitute who spends all day at home in the couple’s London flat. Their solitary existence is disrupted by the sudden arrival of Wilson (Adam Buchanan), a young man whose quest to rent a room devolves into a sinister plot to undermine their safety and exact a bizarre kind of revenge.

None of this sounds especially funny. But Orton’s singular style allows him to conjure a vaguely absurd version of real life that is both comic and tragic. For the most part, director Paul Clayton is able to draw out the many layers of irony to great effect. There are occasional moments where this feels heavy-handed, but it doesn’t seriously impact our investment in the story. It helps that the set (designed by Rachael Ryan) has an intimate, claustrophobic feel, with some audience members practically sitting in Mike and Joyce’s kitchen. Such close proximity keeps us engaged even when the pace slows down.

The three actors create multidimensional, sympathetic characters. Lucy Benjamin’s Joyce is both comically naïve and desperately afraid. Her excitement at the fact that her husband is meeting someone in an ‘exciting place’ like a toilet at King’s Cross station is balanced by her frustration at his refusal to acknowledge her anxiety. Gary Webster brings depth to thuggish Mike, balancing his cold-heartedness with a distinct sense of vulnerability. Webster and Benjamin have great chemistry: their performances suggest a couple whose love for each other has been corrupted by fear. Of the three, Adam Buchanan’s performance as Wilson is the most striking. He has the perfect mix of deceptive innocence and mild antagonism, and is able to switch from deadpan irony to sinister psychosis in seconds.

Whilst it is unlikely that The Ruffian on the Stair will ever be as popular as Loot or What the Butler Saw, The Hope Theatre’s production proves its worth as a piece of theatre. Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago.

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by  Anthony Orme


The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre until 16th February


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Cockamamy | ★★★★ | June 2018
Fat Jewels | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018
The Lesson | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jericho’s Rose | ★★★½ | October 2018
Gilded Butterflies | ★★ | November 2018
Head-rot Holiday | ★★★★ | November 2018
Alternativity | ★★★★ | December 2018
In Conversation With Graham Norton | ★★★ | January 2019


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