Tickets to the radical new production in which the EastEnders and Friday Night Dinner star plays Shylock go on sale today

Originally scheduled for a 2020 run, The Merchant of Venice 1936 has successfully weathered the pandemic!  It is to premiere in Spring 2023, in a partnership between Watford Palace Theatre and Trafalgar Entertainment, supported by the Royal Shakespeare Company with a research and development period earlier this year.  Tickets are now on sale for initial performances at Watford Palace Theatre in February and March 2023, ahead of a national tour (dates to be announced).

Leading actor and writer Tracy-Ann Oberman will reinvent the role of Shylock in the hotly anticipated production directed by Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Watford Palace Theatre. The production shines a light on an earlier dark chapter in our history, the growth of a British Fascist party in the 1930s, and the East End community coming together to stop them in the Battle of Cable Street on 4 October 1936. 

Erica Whyman, acting Artistic Director of the RSC says “The RSC has been privileged to play a small part in the development of this passionate project, which is such a timely reading of Shakespeare’s play.  I have no doubt that Merchant 1936 will be an urgent and powerful event in the theatre, revealing the painful injustice of our own time as well as a very important piece of our history.”

Annabel Arden, Co- Founder of Complicite says “Creative collaboration in the RSC workshop with Brigid, Tracy-Ann and an acting ensemble to find the physical imagery of the piece revealed new meanings in the play for me.  This is a brilliant take on The Merchant of Venice.”

Dame Rosemary Squire, Co-Founder and Joint CEO of Trafalgar Entertainment adds: “We were struck by Tracy-Ann’s passion for this project and knew we needed to come aboard and help make it happen. We are delighted to be playing a part in this thrilling new version of the Shakespearean classic, alongside the RSC and other supporters, so that as many people as possible can see this important and powerful retelling of The Merchant of Venice.” 

Oberman was inspired to reframe The Merchant of Venice drawing on her own great grandmother’s experience as a single mother in London’s East End. She and her sons – Tracy’s great-uncles -were part of the Battle of Cable Street, a watershed moment of popular resistance to fascism in Britain.  The East End stood together to stop Sir Oswald Mosley’s uniformed British Union of Fascists confrontational march through this predominantly Jewish neighbourhood.

This vivid retelling reimagines Shylock as an East End matriarch, a widowed refugee from Russian pogroms. An immigrant, running a small business from a cramped house in Cable Street, she’s working to give her daughter Jessica a better life. The play’s heroine Portia and her circle are aristocratic Fascists. Their playground is piano bars at the Savoy, bias cut silk gowns, white tie and tails. 

Tracy-Ann Oberman said, “I’ve always wanted to reclaim 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. This adaptation will appeal to all immigrant families with strong matriarchs. Everything starts and ends at home and strong mothers have always understood this.”


28 February – 11 March 2023

Watford Palace Theatre, 20 Clarendon Road, Watford, WD17 1JZ

Tues – Sat 7.30pm, sat matinees 2.30pm

(please see website for audio described, captioned, relaxed and dementia friendly performances)

Tickets from £15 

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