Leeds Playhouse is to stage William Shakespeare’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE with Tracy Ann Oberman in the role of Shylock. This major autumn 2020 co-production between five leading regional theatres will be directed by Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director of Watford Palace Theatre.


In a creative response to antisemitism in Britain, the production will be set in 1930s London. Oberman was inspired to reframe THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by her great-grandmother’s experiences as a single mother in the East End. As children, her grandmother and uncles were on the front line at The Battle of Cable Street, when the Jewish community of East London blocked the streets to prevent Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists marching through. As a result, 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 and Rose Theatre Kingston.


This timely retelling sees Shylock as a widow and a survivor, running a small business from a dark, cramped terrace 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 the piano bar at the Savoy, and their uniforms are bias cut silk gowns, and 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 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 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.”

Leeds Playhouse Artistic Director James Brining said: “The Merchant of Venice will be an important part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. It’s exciting to be producing such an urgent and powerful interpretation of this Shakespearean classic in partnership with four other great theatres from across the country. Reframing the production within Tracy Ann’s family history, and the historical events in the East End of London in the 1930s, will deliver a powerfully emotional theatre experience. I look forward to welcoming Brigid, Tracy Ann and the whole company to the Playhouse to share this production with audiences here in Leeds.”


The production runs from 20 – 31 Oct, Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse


Box office:; 0113 213 7700

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