The Merchant of Venice 1936

At its core, Shakespeare’s tale narrates the saga of Antonio and Bassanio, with the former securing a loan from Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, under a bond more macabre than any payday loan advert could dare suggest – a pound of Antonio’s flesh as collateral. Traditionally cloaked in themes of mercy, justice, and revenge, this production casts the shadow of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts over Shakespeare’s Venice, transforming it into a battleground for ideological warfare.

Tracy-Ann Oberman's Shylock is a revelation, redefining the character with layers of maternal ferocity, dignified resilience, and a heartrending vulnerability borne from a history marred by antisemitism. Oberman, with her nuanced portrayal, turns Shylock into a beacon of righteous indignation, her demands for a pound of flesh less a vindictive cry than a heart-wrenching plea for acknowledgment and justice in the face of burgeoning fascism.

Antonio, adorned in the sinister garb of a Blackshirt, mirrors the darkness enveloping 1930s London, his every gesture dripping with an antisemitic venom so potent, it chills the marrow. The juxtaposition of his chilling demeanor with Hannah Morrish’s Portia, a Mitford-esque figure of elegance and icy charm, crafts a narrative as complex as it is captivating.

Yet, for all its brilliance, the production occasionally stumbles in its ambition. The first act, meant to set the stage for the impending ideological clash, meanders, lacking the visceral punch anticipated from such a potent setting. It’s akin to lighting a fuse only to find the dynamite wet – a promise of explosion that sputters into anticipation.

Criterion Theatre, London, until 23 March 2024

Marry Me A Little

Embarking on a theatrical journey with Marry Me A Little at the brand new Stage Door Theatre in Covent Garden is akin to stepping into a cosy, somewhat melancholic soirée with Stephen Sondheim. The revue, a quilt stitched from the master's cuttings – songs that never made it into his iconic shows – offers a unique window into the emotional landscape of two New Yorkers navigating the complexities of love and loneliness.

The show itself is a curious beast. Without dialogue, its narrative is carried solely by song, threading the story of a man and woman, both unnamed, through their separate but emotionally intertwined evenings. Shelley Rivers and Markus Sodergren inhabit these roles with a chemistry that's palpable even though their characters never share the stage. Their performances are a dance of missed connections and near encounters, their voices weaving together in a tapestry of yearning and reflection that is quintessentially Sondheim.

Many of the songs sound exactly like… err… other songs from Sondheim.  Yet, despite some strengths, Marry Me A Little feels like it teeters on the brink of something greater. The absence of dialogue leaves the narrative feeling a tad unmoored. The emotional resonance of the songs occasionally struggles to compensate for the lack of spoken words to tether the storyline.

Other reviewers describe this new theatre venue as ‘intimate’. I’d describe it as a room above a pub. But it’s nice to sit at a proper table and not be cramped in next to somebody unpleasant. Plus, at 70 minutes for the whole show, it was lovely to get home and into bed early for a change.

Stage Door Theatre, London, until 13 April 2024