Tag Archives: Greta Zabulyte

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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Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast


Watford Palace Theatre

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at the Watford Palace Theatre


Beauty and the Beast


“a marvellous show, and a wonderful way to spend an evening!”


Watford’s fantastically festive and chaotically camp pantomime is a Christmas extravaganza!

The first thing to note, which I don’t tend to mention in reviews, but I think is noteworthy on this occasion, is that every single member of staff at Watford Palace Theatre is delightful. From the box office team welcoming me into the building, to the usher who walked me right to my seat, to the hard-working bar staff dealing with a busy interval with smiles on their faces. There was a lovely air of excitement throughout the theatre, and it really added to the pleasant festive atmosphere.

The story (Andrew Pollard) is a unique twist on the traditional tale as old as time. It is set at the Rose Rouge, the finest theatre in Paris, but an up and coming singer falls foul of a dastardly magician’s devilish plot, and only true love can save him!

The riotous script was everything you want from a pantomime. It was a perfect mix of groan-worthy, predictable panto jokes alongside some genuinely hilarious, unexpected moments, with a hefty dose of slapstick, toilet humour and double entendres that go straight over children’s heads, but had the adults roaring with laughter.

The hand painted set (designed by Cleo Pettitt) was impressive, and the lighting (Jamie Platt) gave it some extra razzle dazzle, which added to the spectacle. The lighting throughout was superb – great effects, clever mood lighting, and I always appreciate a good glitter ball!

The costumes (Watford Palace Theatre, Li-Lee Choo and Sarah Ninot) were fabulous, especially Dame Sarah Sew-n-Sew, whose outrageously over the top dresses were a highlight for me. And villain Deja Vu, who, in his sparkly purple number, looked like a mixture of Dick Dastardly and Julian Clary. The performance by Jonathan D Ellis certainly lived up to the camp costume! Energetically playing up to the booing and hissing and “oh no you don’ts” from the audience, Ellis’s performance was excellent from start to finish.

Dame Sarah Sew-n-Sew, played by Terence Frisch in his tenth year as the dame at Watford Palace, was very, very funny. His impeccable comic timing, knowing winks to the audience, and witty improvised moments demonstrated his natural comic ability, complimented by his ten year experience of damehood.

Beauty and the Beast’s only notable downside was the lack of big chorus numbers. The show was a tremendous spectacle, but the song choices let it down a little, especially as all the performers had great singing voices, so it would have been nice to hear them sing together more often. With a cast of only seven people, it was a little bit lacking in “wow” goosebump moments during the songs. There were group numbers at the start of the second act and the finale which were fantastic, though I do think the performers’ beautiful voices could have been put to more use as a group. That said, the band (made up of Ellie Verkerk, Robin Johnson and Red Fielder-Van Kleeff) were absolutely spot on – from transition music at scene changes, to well-timed drum beats at particularly cheesy jokes. And there were some really lovely songs, a gorgeous duet between Belle (Amiyah Goodall) and Beast (Ben Boskovic) was particularly memorable. They both have stunning voices that compliment each other well.

Overall, this was a marvellous show, and a wonderful way to spend an evening!


Reviewed on 11th December 2022

by Suzanne Curley

Photography by Greta Zabulyte


More top rated shows this month:


Ghosted – Another F**king Christmas Carol | ★★★★★ | The Other Palace | December 2022
Orlando | ★★★★ | Garrick Theatre | December 2022
Bugsy Malone | ★★★★★ | Alexandra Palace | December 2022


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