Tag Archives: Tracy-Ann Oberman

“The Merchant of Venice 1936” at Wilton’s Music Hall

This touring production, in association with the RSC, the Watford Palace Theatre and Home Manchester, has already received deserved acclaim. But since director Brigid Larmour has relocated the action to a specific year in the East End of London, seeing the show in Grace’s Alley is extra special. Video work from Greta Zabulyte showing the battle of Cable Street (just around the corner) is chilling. At the end, an ovation is built into the production as we are invited to stand against fascism just as East Enders did 87 years ago.

Given current tragic events, it is sad rather than surprising that the show has extra power. Nonetheless, this abridgement of Shakespeare is excellent. Although less than two hours I didn’t miss much. You might say some romance has gone – or, rather, that nonsense with riddles and caskets is handled swiftly – and the role of Shylock’s daughter Jessica does suffer. But the focus on antisemitism here is clear and bold. The extent to which the establishment that money-lending Shylock is pitted against encourages hostility is a focus – hatred of the Jew is literally institutional. Casual prejudice is highlighted and often painful to watch.

The big twist is to see Shylock’s intended victim Antonio, often viewed as heroic , as an Oswald Mosley figure and it is jaw dropping. It is a marvel that a simple black shirt can change the play so much. Raymond Coulthard, who takes the role, makes a great villain. But all the characters become tainted by hate, including Hannah Morrish’s excellent Portia, who we want to like, but whose contempt of Shylock is disturbing. Also of note are Xavier Starr and Jessica Dennis, who play two relatively small roles that they make powerful, showing a mix of ignorance, spite and violence.

Of course, the star is Shylock, played by Tracy-Ann Oberman. A strong accent, impeccably delivered, emphasises her outsider status. While there is defiance, there is also a depressing resignation about the prejudice suffered. Larmour and Oberman are too smart to make Shylock a sympathetic figure. But we come closer to understanding the rage the character carries around – and how the chance at revenge is so quickly taken. A speech after the applause might explain why this performance is so brilliant – Cable Street is close to Oberman’s heart. At the risk of making a cold observation about such an impassioned performance, Oberman reminds us how live – as well as raw – theatre can be.

Until 11 November 2023 and then on tour until 10 February 2024


Photo by Marc Brenner

“Old Money” at the Hampstead Theatre

Old Money, a new play by Sarah Wooley, marks the end of a fantastic year for Hampstead Theatre. Taking on this young writer is to Artistic Director Edward Hall’s credit; he’s spotted a quirky talent and a play full of fun, with serious points, that maybe a little rough around the edges, but is well worth watching. And that’s not to mention its star attraction – Maureen Lipman in fine form and not to be missed.

The story of three generations of women, Pearl, Joyce and Fiona, is rife with humorous conflict and includes a slight touch of fantasy. An unhealthy family triangle is complicated when Joyce becomes a widow and embraces her new freedom by making friends with a stripper. There have been plenty of dramas about baby boomers lately, but Wooley seems more interested in simply telling a good story – this is a tale of the unexpected and hugely entertaining.

It is not without problems. Everyone touched by the old money Joyce married into seems pretty objectionable – their selfishness seems hard to believe. And surely even the suburbs of Surrey aren’t quite as sheltered as Wooley makes out? The matriarch Faith’s hold over her daughter is dubious, while Joyce’s own spendthrift child Fiona seems bitter because she lives in a maisonette in Colliers Wood – bad, but not unbearable. As for the men in the piece, you start to suspect Wooley has some axe to grind in making them all so useless and unpleasant. But the problems aren’t all from Wooley’s script; surprisingly, the experienced director Terry Johnson seems flat-footed and fails to keep up the pace the play deserves.

However, Wooley’s humour is spot on, with plenty of laughs and observations that ring true. Best of all, the performances in Old Money are superb. Helen Ryan is a crowd-pleasing termagant and Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as a grasping 40-something. Of course, it’s Lipman’s show and her character’s journey to fulfil long-delayed dreams, battling against various roles she is forced into, is performed wonderfully. The perfect comic timing we expect is there accompanied by breathless pauses and hesitations that show Lipman is in total control. Joyce isn’t an inspiring figure, the play is too complex for that, but Lipman makes her, and the play, very much alive.

Until 12 January 2013


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 6 December 2012 for The London Magazine