REVIEW | Shylock | Midlands Arts Centre

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Shylock is a one-man show based around Shakespeare’s infamous protagonist in The Merchant of Venice from the perspective of Tubal (the only other Jewish character in Shakespeare’s play). This piece, performed by Rhodri Miles, is an analysis of not only the caricature that is Shylock, but of all that he represents and of what that says about our society. Tubal acts as a mouthpiece for all the Jewish characters in theatre that have been made out to be money-grabbing, vacuous and inferior. Armstrong has given Tubal back his voice, and in doing so has given a voice to so many voiceless Jews throughout history. With this new-found agency and power, Tubal talks the audience through all the things he would have done or said, had he been given more lines in the play.

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Tubal explains some of the historical context that is important in The Merchant of Venice: the prejudice, persecution, violence and murder that the Jewish community have suffered for hundreds of years across Europe. Being forced out of nations and made to wear badges and caps to identify them is something we associate with the Nazis, however Tubal enlightens the audience and explains how antisemitism and these acts of hatred have been long-standing traditions across Europe. This piece highlights the hypocrisy in prejudice and humanises not just Shylock but the stock character that is Pantalone, freeing him from the shackles of being nothing but a loathed and misunderstood usurer. Tubal helps us explore the lack of choice and options that were available to someone like Shylock, and draws parallels between the antisemitism of Shakespeare’s time, and the xenophobia we now see in our society.

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While critiquing Shakespeare’s problematic work, this play picks out some of the most poignant moments of the play. Tubal’s ninety-minute monologue is like a poetic essay picking apart the role of “the Jew” in not just British theatre but in theatre all across Europe, showing us where these legends and characters derive from. This clever and witty piece of theatre is refreshingly informative and makes a vital social comment. Rhodri Miles is fantastic at bringing each and every character to life with subtly, so if your heart already broke watching The Merchant of Venice, this show will be sure to break it all over again!

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