May 23, 2024

The touring production of “The Merchant of Venice 1936″ has been targeted by antisemites, its star revealed.

Tracy-Ann Oberman, who has starred in “Doctor Who” and “Friday Night Dinner,” says the tour of the Shakespearean play has been forced to hire security guards in the wake of a surge of antisemitism prompted by the war between Hamas and Israel.

“We’re on a 10-week tour and I’ve been moved beyond words at the reactions of audiences and critics. Yet for the last week, the production has had to have security men around keeping an eye on things. It’s like a dystopian nightmare,” Oberman wrote in The Spectator. “A Jewish actress putting on a play about antisemitism which needs to be made secure because of Jew-hating extremists. As one reviewer said: ‘Written in 1600, set in 1936, as relevant today in 2023.’ Ain’t that the truth.”

“Ever since Hamas’ terror attack on Israel, with the pogrom-like brutality towards babies, women and girls, including rape and burning alive, I have felt broken. On stage, when I say the lines ‘When you prick us do we not bleed? When you tickle us, do we not laugh? When you poison us do we not die?,’ I weep for all the innocent victims, and I know we must stand together against an evil that wants to rip us apart. And the audiences cry too,” Oberman added.

“The Merchant of Venice 1936,” which is directed by Brigid Larmour, is set in the 1930s in London’s East End. Tensions are rising and Shylock (played by Oberman), a resilient single mother and hard-working businesswoman, is desperate to protect her daughter’s future. When the charismatic merchant Antonio (“Gentleman Jack’s” Raymond Coulthard) comes to her for a loan, a high-stakes deal is struck.

Oberman wrote that she based her Shylock on three matriarchs in her family, one of whom escaped pogroms. She added that the great aunt who escaped pogroms considered England a safe place until the advent of Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. “In October 1936 she watched Mosley and his private militia put up poster after poster and nail leaflet after leaflet about the slippery, alien, untrustworthy Jew, who was not welcome on England’s shores,” Oberman wrote.

Oberman makes reference to Shylock’s infamous “pound of flesh” demand in the play and says that the character “became synonymous with the devilish, money-obsessed Jew.” In the current adaptation of the play, “Shylock still represents The Other, the instigator of the un-Christian vice of money breeding. But she is not a pure villain nor a victim,” Oberman writes. “She’s a woman whose generational trauma and own experiences have brutalized her to the point of becoming the monster she has constantly been accused of being.”

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