Tag Archives: Richard Katz

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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Love and Other Acts of Violence


Donmar Warehouse

Love and Other Acts of Violence

Donmar Warehouse

Reviewed – 15th October 2021



“it’s essential to remind ourselves that theatre isn’t just about feel good musicals and revivals of the classics”


Cordelia Lynn’s new play, Love and Other Acts of Violence, is an unsettling look into how intimate relationships can be haunted by the past. In Lynn’s hands, it’s a clever premise. It’s multi-layered, complex—and yet, predictable in its unraveling. It looks back into the past and—just as unsettling—suggests a bleak future which, at this time of writing, doesn’t seem all that impossible. It is a timely reminder how quickly educated, civilized communities can be destroyed in a moment, if malign forces converge to set them against one another and tear them apart. Even more heartbreaking are the fates of the people caught in the middle. People just trying to live their own lives, to be true to their own cultural values, and not get drawn into fights that mean nothing to them.

It helps, then, to see the contemporary relationship between a Jewish physicist/Her and a poet of Polish descent/Him in this play as—broadly speaking—a series of echoes from the past that destroyed Her’s family in 1918 in what had just become Poland. We don’t learn the details of this past tragedy until the lengthy epilogue of the play, but Lynn sets about creating the inevitable revelations from the very first encounter between this ill-matched pair. He’s the idealistic firebrand at a party, invading her space as he rants passionately about poorly paid workers at the university where she is a graduate student. He notes with disdain the nice flat that he has snooped around during the party, and makes some unflattering comments about the likely owner. It turns out that it belongs to Her, the woman he is trying so hard to impress. Luckily for Him, and not so luckily for Her, she’s also kind, sensitive and intelligent, willing to forgive. This dynamic sets up the encounters that follow, becoming more intense, and violent, as the pair become lovers, then partners. The audience can only wonder why she doesn’t walk away. It’s painful to watch. And that is the point.

If we expect Lynn to stop there, however, Love and Other Acts of Violence has a couple more surprises for us. The first is a trip to a harrowingly imagined future, as the couple’s relationship deteriorates. At every point, the relationship echoes the slow, but insidious erosion of civil rights in the world around them, and hints of civil war. And then, in a magnificent moment, a coup de théâtre indeed, Basia Bińkowska’s bleak set converts from a bare space in the twenty-first century British Isles, to a meticulously detailed room in twentieth century L’viv (also Lwów, or Lemberg). In the epilogue, we see how events playing out during a struggle between Poles and Ukrainians for a small piece of contested territory sets the stage for the relationship we have just witnessed. Powerful, and tragic, stuff.

The newly refurbished Donmar Warehouse is a good place for a play like this. The austere brickwork and stark lines of the auditorium focus our attention squarely where it should be—on the stage, and the actors. Tom Mothersdale (as Him/Man) has the thankless task of playing the unsympathetic protagonist, and it’s to his credit that he goes for it so unstintingly. It’s easy to sympathize with Abigail Weinstock’s Her, but there’s not much for her to do except to react to His goading in the first part of Love and Other Acts of Violence. Baba (the role she takes on in the epilogue) is in some ways, a more interesting, nuanced role, and Weinstock makes the most of the opportunity. Richard Katz as Tatte is the charming, yet dolefully prescient father in the epilogue, who explains to his daughter why they have not taken the opportunity to escape to America. Director Elayce Ismail’s assured direction holds the play together, and sets the stage for each feature of this production to shine. I’ve mentioned the brilliant set design, but the sound (Richard Hammarton) and lighting (Joshua Pharo) are also noteworthy. And although there is no dramaturgy credit, the programme notes by Professor Michael Berkowitz are an absolutely essential part of understanding how this complex play fits together.

While a play like Love and Other Acts of Violence might not be everyone’s idea of how to spend a Friday night in the theatre, it’s important to remind ourselves that theatre isn’t just about feel good musicals and revivals of the classics. There are times when playwrights have to be the Cassandras of their generation, and fortunately for us, Cordelia Lynn knows how to rise to the challenge. I urge you to see this show.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Helen Murray


Love and Other Acts of Violence

Donmar Warehouse until 27th November


Previously reviewed this year by Dominica:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
The Sorrows of Satan | ★★★ | Online | May 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021
The Game Of Love And Chance | ★★★★ | Arcola Theatre | July 2021
The Ladybird Heard | ★★★★ | Palace Theatre | July 2021
Rune | ★★★ | Round Chapel | August 2021
Roots | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | October 2021
The Witchfinder’s Sister | ★★★ | Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | October 2021
Rice | ★★★★ | Orange Tree Theatre | October 2021


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