Shylock has always divided opinion. Is he a villain or a victim? Or is he someone even more intriguing.
There is no doubt Shylock is hard done by in "The Merchant of Venice", but does he bring it on himself? As one of only two Jewish men in the whole of Shakespeare, he has been portrayed in ways which reflected how Jews were popularly viewed - from comic villain in Shakespeare's day to a victim of racial discrimination nowadays.
This award winning, poignant, powerful yet humorous performance - from the company that created the Olivier Award winning "Morecambe" - brings us Shylock afresh in one of the most globally successful solo shows of the last decade.
Guy Masterson, perhaps the world's leading exponent of the form, demonstrates its brilliance, honouring one of Shakespeare's finest creations from one of his greatest plays in a performance that celebrates the beauty of language, the power of history and the magic of theatre! "Shylock deserves to be packed out every show. It reflects the deepest love and understanding of Shakespeare's genius, and mixes us adeptly into the problems, pressures, traditions, censors prejudices and passions of Elizabethan theatre." (The Scotsman) "Innovative, delightful, exceptional!" (The Independent)
BROADWAY BABY 12/08/16 Guy Masterson and Gareth Armstrong deliver a tour-de-force of history, drama and comedy in this one-actor show. Starting with Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, we are taken on a journey that spans both centuries of Jewish persecution and centuries of the play and its various incarnations. What does it mean to be Shylock, at once the villain and the victim, and the star of his play; what does it mean to be any Jew throughout history?
This show, written and directed by Gareth Armstrong, takes a look at what Shylock means for his creator, for his audiences then and today, and for the only other Jew in Shakespeares works-Tubal - This is Masterson's role - underlooked in the original, perhaps, only eight lines long: but vital. Tubal is an essential character on this journey, but Masterson flits between roles as the narrative switches from history to theatre and back again. We hear about the slaughter of Jews in York in 1190 woven in with the performance of Barabbas from The Jew of Malta by Shakespeare's contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. The origin of the blood libel slips into a performance of scenes from the Bible. Folklore, theatrical conventions, and the Puritans; superstition, politics, and tragedy. This is compelling material, and with its careful structure, and an actor as skilled as Guy Masterson, it is displayed to the fullest advantage: not a lecture (though it is heavy on the historical information) but a piece of theatre in its own right.
Masterson is in complete control, both our jolly guide with plenty of jokes up his sleeves and the angry Jew who has been silenced too long. That's just in his role as narrator. He slips in and out of multiple characters throughout: Shylock, Tubal, Barabbas, Portia, Pontius Pilate, Charles Matlin, Thomas and Henrietta Bowdler, and Hitler, to name a few.
There's well-timed comedy (especially of the ironic variety), but a steely determination to uncover aspects of the truth underneath. At one point Masterson, exasperated with people who want to cut and edit Shylock's part, demands that the plays are just left to speak for themselves. This is a show that aims to deepen our understanding of the issues around Jews, history, and the theatre, not to dictate or proselytise. A word for the set and the techs as well: both are stark and effective, well integrated with the performance. Well-researched and well-delivered, this is a forceful and thought-provoking piece of theatre. (Fiona Mossman - Broadway Baby August 12, 2016)
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE 22/08/16 Taking its cue from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, as you might have guessed from the title, Masterson does not actually portray the famous Jew well he does occasionally, but the story is told through the character of Tubal, friend to Shylock, rather bitter about only having 8 lines in the whole play.
Somehow, in just an hour and a quarter, the script covers the important elements of Shylock's story in Shakespeare's play as well as 400 years of the play's production and 2,000 years of Jewish persecution.
It's a remarkable achievement, but on top of all of that it's also very funny for much of the time. But when we come to the climax of the Shakespeare tale, I've never seen a more moving and sympathetic portrayal of Shylock's final fate in any production of Merchant.
Masterson has been playing this part since 2011, and that shows in the confidence in his performance and the slickness of the production. He demonstrates various characters, acting styles and comic turns as well as narrating the various stories and histories in a way that keeps the audience's rapt attention throughout.
Managing to be both entertaining and informative and to be totally relevant to a modern audience, this well-researched and energetically performed hour and a quarter is highly recommended. (David Chatterton - British Theatre Gude - 22/08/16)
EDINBURGH FESTIVALS MAGAZINE 20/08/16 Guy Masterson presents the fantastic, dramatic and comical Shylock, based on the famous character from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. It explores the history of Jewish suppression whilst tracking the legacy of Shylock's character through subsequent Shakespeare performances.
Masterson draws our attention to Shylock's best friend Tubal, who, despite appearing only briefly and with very few lines, acts as the central figure. The narrative unfolds around him and covers a tremendously wide array of history centred around Jewish persecution and Shakespeare's play. It is an incredibly ambitious project that may benefit from being a little more concise but undeniably fascinates its audience from beginning to end.
Masterson is incredibly talented and gives an astounding one man performance, engaging his audience in it's important and captivating story, and even managing to throw in some hilarious comedic moments to boot. (Nastassia Sutherland - EdFest Mag - 20/08/16)
Shylock Punters' Reviews - Edinburgh 2016
Glenys Mclaren 17/08/16
***** performance. Guy Masterson never disappoints and this is yet another excellent performance. I also learnt a lot about the history of the attitudes towards the Jews.
Susannah Hart 13/08/16 An engaging performance and a fascinating informative look into the treatment of the Jewish people in Europe - still relevant today
Ken Miller 12/08/16 A masterful performance full of humour, power and occasional menace. Thought provoking yet always entertaining.
Lisa Hadaway 10/08/16 Thought provoking and entertaining. A must see!
THE SKINNY 13/08/13 (Edinburgh Fringe 2013) We're so accustomed to gimmicky rehashes of Shakespeare, it's a pleasure to discover an intelligent new take on his work; how curious it is to consider the inception of a character like Shylock, to ponder his place in society and why Shakespeare put him there. Gareth Armstrong's one-man show, Shylock, does just that. The troublesome character from The Merchant of Venice (one of only two Jewish men ever to appear in Shakespeare), is explored through his friend (and bit-part) Tubal. Through a series of clever impersonations, Guy Masterson's Tubal also ponders the portrayal of the typical Jew in literature. Whilst re-enacting Shylock's key scenes, he reveals background information about Jewish oppression, citing everything from the Scriptures to Dracula and Hitler. Humour is a key aspect of the play's success despite its heavy subject matter. Scenes detailing the sadness and oppression are left just long enough to affect us and then Tubal jauntily re-emerges grumbling about the fact he's a bit part with a mere eight lines of dialogue. Masterson's performance is fast and furious as he a snaps from one character to another, constantly catching us off-guard. The audience is captivated throughout as he shifts effortlessly from resentful despair to child-like excitement. Vibrant, poignant, exceptionally well written and beautifully executed. (Rebecca Paul - The Skinny 13/08/13
SCOTSGAY MAGAZINE 13/08/13 (Edinburgh Fringe 2013) This is one very exceptional actor on stage for ninety minutes, becoming a great variety of characters in that time, and telling much of the story of Jewish history also. It is difficult to avoid the cliché of describing this as a tour de force.
Guy Masterson presents himself at first in the character of Tubal, Shylock's friend, who has only eight lines in The Merchant of Venice, and who is the only other Jewish man in Shakespeare. (Shylock's daughter being the only other Jew) He reminds us that Shakespeare would not have met any Jews - not any who were legally present, anyway, because Jews had been barred from England for centuries, following the upsurge of the blood libel, of the idea of Jews using Christian children in rituals, in the 12th century. This idea spread throughout Europe, taking firm hold in Transylvania, and hence the story of a certain vampire.
We are treated to many other historical figures, to references to the holocaust, and to detailed references to Shakespeare's sources, mainly in a much saucier earlier tale, and to Portia's speech in detail and to Shylock's fate. We see the masks that would have been used for early productions, we hear the words of Marlowe's very caricatured The Jew of Malta, and we see how famous actors through history have presented Shylock.
When this show is over, we have been made aware of much fascinating history, we have seen many characters come to life, we have heard much Shakespeare text very well performed, and we have seen a brilliant performance by a very distinguished actor. The very enthusiastic applause could not be more deserved. (Tony Challis - ScotsGay 13/08/13)
GENERAL TOURING 2011 - 2013
MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS 27/08/12
Gareth Armstrong's one-man play Shylock is a powerful meditation on the portrayal of Jews in theatre, presented through the eyes of Tubal, Shylock's friend. The sparse staging and minimal use of props, including a box of Shylock's costumes and a backdrop containing the word "Jew" in several languages, allows the audience to focus on Tubal.
Actor Guy Masterson breathes tremendous energy and personality into the character. He engages the audience with a warm and conversational manner, peppered with bursts of intensity and dry observational humour. Tubal spoke just eight lines in The Merchant of Venice, but, as he cheerily reminds us, they are "very important lines!" Even the humorous moments contain a powerful message as Tubal pleads understanding for Shylock as a complex character, as opposed to a racial or religious caricature.
The hooked nose, wild hair and cunning eyes of anti-Semitic caricature might have originated on the Renaissance stage; later in the play, Masterson dons a large-nosed Venetian mask and unruly red wig to recite Shylock's famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech. Heart-stopping!
An unforgettable theatrical experience and testament to the art of the one-man show, Shylock is highly recommended not only for students and teachers of English but for viewers interested in Jewish history. The tour continues. (Jo Baldwin - Manchester Evening News 27/08/12)
GUY MASTERSON BRINGS A REFINED SENSIBILITY TO 'SHYLOCK' In all of Shakespeare there are just two male Jewish characters, both found in The Merchant of Venice.
One is world famous: Shylock, the moneylender who demands as his security a 'pound of flesh,' a role that has been played by the leading actors of every age since the play was first performed. The other is Tubal, Shylock's friend, who dwells among Shakespeare's most obscure characters.
That's the starting point for Shylock, a one-actor play by Gareth Armstrong that theatergoers can see Guy Masterson perform as part of 'The British Invasion 2011' at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Kansas City. This two-act play is wide-ranging, encyclopedic, profoundly serious and very funny as it intertwines theater history with the perception and treatment of Jews in Britain.
Masterson, a charismatic performer with a booming voice and a larger-than-life stage presence, brings a refined sensibility to this piece. That play is dense and complex but Masterson maintains maximum clarity throughout. Masterson plays our host for the evening, Tubal himself, who insists that even though Shakespeare gives him only eight lines, he is nevertheless an important and influential character.
Some of the history is sobering: the murder in 1140 of William of Norwich, a youth whose violent death was attributed to Jews and originated the myth of Jews using the blood of Christian children in religious ritual; the York massacre of 1190; the ruling by Pope Innocent III in 1215 that all Jews (and Muslims) should publicly wear a yellow badge, long before the Nazis; and the expulsion of Jews by edict of Edward I in 1290.
Oliver Cromwell's decision in 1656 to allow them to return was motivated in part, the play suggests, by the economically depressed country's need for some banking expertise.
Tubal also guides us through the history of the English theater, beginning with the observation that - because of the expulsion - William Shakespeare had never met a Jew. Nor did he know much about Venice. And he had a jumbled sense of geography.
Early on Shylock was portrayed in the broadest stereotypical way, with a hook nose and ginger hair, depicted as either a clown or a monster. But things began to change when Charles Macklin, an 18th century star of the London stage, played Shylock in an 'authentic' manner by researching the traditional Jewish customs and dress. In the 19th century, Edmund Keane established a new tradition of portraying Shylock sympathetically, as a victim of bigotry.
The piece allows Masterson to recreate scenes from The Merchant of Venice, sometimes humorously, and to perform amusing asides about the New Testament, the fate of minor characters and the plight of minor actors.
It all adds up to a sumptuous theatrical, historical and intellectual feast served up in a bravura performance. (Robert Trussell - The Kansas City Star - 14/12/11)
PERTHSHIRE ADVERTISER - 05/11/11 BREATHTAKING! writer/Director Gareth Armstrong's highly acclaimed work on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice character Shylock - one of only two Jews to appear in the Bard's work - is in effect a play within a play.
As Tubal 'best and only friend' of Shylock, Guy Masterson brings to life one of Shakespeare's incidental characters using him as the conduit to document the progress of his doomed and foolish friend throughout Shakespeare's play.
Using some shocking history, theatrical anecdote and a healthy peppering of characterised scenes from Shakespeare's classic play, the casting of the Jew as history's perpetual villain over the centuries is laid bare.
And in a breathtaking, moving and at times hilarious performance, the conflicts and contradictions of Shylock's life are finally revealed as he seeks his pound of flesh. Villain or victim? You can decide.
Masterson is truly the master of the one-man show, who with his unique brand of physical storytelling is nothing short of marvellous. (Andy Fallon - Perthshire Advertiser - 05/11/11)
MUST SEE THE STAGE - 16/08/11
NOMINATED BEST SOLO PERFORMANCE! Gareth Armstrong was nominated for The Stage's acting award in 1998 for his solo show on Shakespeare's Venetian Jew, and now Guy Masterson, who directed him then, returns to play the role himself. The differences between the two are instructive, because while Armstrong inhabited the character, Masterson always - deliberately - remains a little outside him.
His mode is that of a really, really good teacher sharing his excitement and love of the material in an irresistibly infectious way, so that the end product is just as enthralling, though perhaps not quite as moving.
Armstrong's text actually begins with the lesser character of Shylock's Jewish friend Tubal, and thus invites an external relation to the moneylender, as do the thoroughly researched and fascinating digressions into the history of Jews in British history and drama and in the later theatrical history of Shakespeare's play.
Of course the script does keep returning to Shakespeare's text, with Masterson offering intelligent readings of all Shylock's major scenes while also stepping back to comment on them.
In Masterson's hands, with Armstrong now directing, the play may not move you to tears, but it is likely to send you eagerly to the next opportunity to see The Merchant of Venice itself. (Gerald Berkowitz - The Stage - 16/08/11)
THEATREGUIDE LONDON - 07/08/11 Edinburgh is the home of the solo show and, all too often, the home of the tedious solo show. This play bucks that trend with great writing from Gareth Armstrong (and William Shakespeare) and a perfect performance from Guy Masterson as the put-upon Venetian Jew and his friend Tubal, whose calm perspective is valuable, as hatred takes over from business. Shylock works because it sets The Merchant of Venice and its central figure in perspective. The play looks at the Jewish experience in Europe over five or so centuries leading up to the play, culminating not only with Shylock but a brief burst of Barabbas from Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. It also traces Shakespeare's source to help viewers to understand where this creation came from. However, the main reason for rushing to Assembly Hall is to see Guy Masterson, under the direction of the writer, who has himself performed the monologue around the globe, affectionately playing Shylock but also those around him. He is especially good as the calmly cruel Portia, who takes anti-Semitism to a new level, at least on one reading of the text and context. (Philip Fisher - Theatreguide London 10/08/11)
THE SKINNY - 07/08/11 A fascinating study of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
We're so accustomed to gimmicky rehashes of Shakespeare, it's a pleasure to discover an intelligent new take on his work; how curious it is to consider the inception of a character like Shylock, to ponder his place in society and why Shakespeare put him there.
Gareth Armstrong's one-man show, Shylock, does just that. The troublesome character from The Merchant of Venice (one of only two Jews ever to appear in Shakespeare), is explored through his friend (and bit-part) Tubal.
Through a series of clever impersonations, Guy Masterson's Tubal also ponders the portrayal of the typical Jew in literature. Whilst re-enacting Shylock's key scenes, he reveals background information about Jewish oppression, citing everything from the Scriptures to Dracula and Hitler.
Humour is a key aspect of the play's success despite its heavy subject matter. Scenes detailing the sadness and oppression are left just long enough to affect us and then Tubal jauntily re-emerges grumbling about the fact he's a bit part with a mere eight lines of dialogue. Masterson's performance is fast and furious as he a snaps from one character to another, constantly catching us off-guard. The audience is captivated throughout as he shifts effortlessly from resentful despair to child-like excitement.
Vibrant, poignant, exceptionally well written and beautifully executed. (Rebecca Paul - The Skinny - 22/08/11)
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE - 13/08/11 When you see that Guy Masterson is appearing in the one-man play Shylock, the immediate reaction is that he is playing the eponymous character. That reaction is wrong, however, for, although the play is about Shylock, Masterson's character is Tubal who is Shyock's friend in The Merchant of Venice and who has, as he tells us frequently, just eight lines.
The play looks at Shylock and his standing up for his pound of flesh and, through him and performances of Merchant, traces the perception of the Jew through the ages until Shakespeare's time. Because of this, Masterson gets to play numerous parts, including Marlowe's Jew of Malta, Barabas, as well as Portia and others.
Those who have seen his other one-man performances, such as Animal Farm and Under Milk Wood, will be aware of his easy rapport with the audience and the physicality which allows him to transform his body into the character he is playing. They will not be disappointed here, for both are very much in evidence.
Shylock delivers a serious message but with a light touch and Tubal's good humour and ready smile draw the audience in. They warm to him and feel for Shylock, his friend.
With 20 years of experience in one-man shows, performing himself and directing others, Masterson knows exactly what works and what doesn't and this production shows yet again his mastery of the genre. (Peter Lathan - British Theatre Guide 13/08/11)
EDINBURGHGUIDE.COM - 10/08/11 Storytellers have always been our window on the past, the troubadours of history were welcomed at everybody's door because of the news, they carried. This is not the case with the Jews since the time of Christ .
Playing to an absolutely full house, Guy Masterson takes us on an amazing journey through the history of anti-Semitism using the vehicle of Shakespeare's Shylock and narrated by Tubal , Shylock's only friend. There are three main characters in this one man play, Shylock, Tubal and the actor. Who is Tubal? I hear you ask, we all did, he proudly tells us he has only eight lines in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Masterson's use of Tubal's character as our guide through the history of the persecution of the Jews, is a masterclass in historical cameos from Pontius Pilate to Hitler, as well as introducing us to the famous actors who have emulated and portrayed Shylock over the centuries.
We are introduced to the pogroms of the last millennium in Europe, but he also conveys to the audience the importance of the Shylock character which became synonymous with the gentiles' image of the wandering, avaricious Jew. Masterson's performance and understanding of the character, brings us a new perspective to the injustice that the Jewish faith suffered at the hands of the European Christians.
It is cleverly written and superbly performed, even John Knox would have enjoyed it. If you seek perfection in theatre then this production has to be close to the best one man show at the festival. (John Ritchie - Edinburghguide.com 10/08/11)
FRINGEREVIEW.COM - 06/08/11 Guy Masterson presents the masterpiece that is Gareth Armstrong's Shylock in a characteristic display of exhilarating talent. The show sees Tubal (Masterson), the one and only friend of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, lead us through the literary representation of Jews throughout history focussing, of course, on Shakespeare's infamous villain.
Armstrong conveys to us the idea that Shylock's unreasonable and unrelenting demand for his 'pound of flesh' is not indicative of Shakespeare's anti-Semitism, rather a comment on the extreme behaviours that can result when a minority is shunned, ignored and ridiculed. Armstrong, like Tubal himself, makes no attempt to convince the audience of Shylock's amiability or innocence, rather he forces us to empathise with unreasonable behaviour; social exile can provoke acts of hatred.
The writing is spectacular; a recurring theme seems to be that of the 'story behind the legend' which extends beyond Shylock to incorporate Shakespeare's wider work, Biblical tales, and Nazi horror stories. Without seeming educational it is full to the brim with interesting literary facts and historical trivia ranging from Abraham to Barbara Streisand. The staging is simple yet thoughtful and the wall-like banners graffittied with the word 'Jew' in different languages underlines the idea of separatism and exclusion as a universal vice.
Masterson's performance is everything you would expect from such a legendary solo performer. The actor's own charisma ensnares us from the start whilst creating a truly textured character in Tubal, the perpetual understudy, the faithful friend. Tubal's good natured narrative manages to convey to us the horror of certain moments of Jewish persecution without instilling guilt or shame: we understand how hateful acts are not necessarily personal, simply ignorant, misguided and utterly useless.
Shylock gives us everything we want from theatre: an informative and thought-provoking story, a solid hour of comedic entertainment and a stunning display of talent. As an example of what theatre strives to achieve, this is a must see. (Phoebe Ladenburg - FringeReview.com - 06/08/11)
BROADWAY BABY - 22/08/11 Shylock! Shellach! Shakespeare's looming, incredible, irritated, wounded, evil(?) and only Jewish man in all his works. Sorry. I'm forgetting Tubal. Guy Masterson, as Tubal/the actor playing Tubal, this piece's sole performer, will not let you forget Tubal. Tubal is Shylock's only friend. He has only eight lines, but he is, this production contends, vital to Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and vital to Shylock.
On a set with five hung banners behind, each spattered with words for Jews in numerous languages, we are taken through the history, the performance and the character of Shylock. Writer/Director Gareth Armstrong gives us four narratives: that of The Merchant of Venice; performances of play and those who have taken the part of Shylock; the history of Jews within Europe, how that relates to the origins of the play and how Shylock has been perceived in relation to those points in time; and finally, the narrative of Tubal, our guide, who Armstrong has in the back of Shylock's scenes (silent, of course) exploring his motives and machinations.
It is the engaging qualities of Masterson's self-deprecating Tubal who holds these interlaced narratives together, allowing us to dip in and out of history as to when it is relevant pertaining to Shylock's speeches. For modern audiences, The Merchant of Venice is troubling for its perceived anti-semitism and it is this the performance plays on. Tubal is the fulcrum of a sympathetic reading: the information Tubal relates in those eight lines of Act III, Scene 1 show Shylock to be of high standing in the Jewish community, to have friends and, more importantly, it leads into one of Shakespeare's most eloquent speeches. And here is where Armstrong's production transcends its theatrical historiography and becomes an important piece of drama.
Masterson's Tubal inverts the order of Act 1, Scene III, setting up the contemporary history for us and leaving Shylock at the end of the Tubal-Shylock mini-scene, stood, frozen, unable to comprehend his situation. The lights go down and ominous music booms from behind. Rummaging in his suitcase in the dark, when the lights come up, we see Masterson complete with skullcap, ginger Jew wig (Judas was thought to be ginger) and hook-nosed mask. He launches into the start of Shylock's famous 'If you prick us do we not bleed?' speech, which with literally the mask of prejudice on his face, makes it doubly powerful and gives, further, an almost-reasonable angle to the latter and bloodthirsty end of the speech when he takes the mask off and confronts us. It's a powerful image and a powerful addition to our understanding of the play. The performance will engage you and prick your interest into seeing The Merchant of Venice... (Laurie Coldwell - Broadway Baby - 22/08/11)
THE LIST - 10/08/11
Gareth Armstrong and Guy Masterson take us behind the mask of Shakespeare's Jew:
In a festival overflowing with one-actor shows, Gareth Armstrong's Shylock, performed by Guy Masterson - a much-loved master of the Fringe monodrama - stands out as a work of real quality. The script, which is offered to us by the character of Tubal (Shylock's Jewish friend in The Merchant of Venice), is a carefully considered combination of historical research and performed excerpts from both the Bard's play and, its predecessor, Christopher Marlowe's notorious drama The Jew of Malta.
Played in front of simple canvases which are covered with the word 'Jew' in various languages, the piece (which is also directed by Armstrong) is a powerful explanation of, and statement against, anti-Semitism. However, Masterson's Tubal has such physicality, intellectual sophistication and bleak humour that the show is never in danger of toppling from theatre into lecture. Indeed, when the actor dons the hooked-nosed mask and ginger wig which characterised Jews on the Renaissance stage (as Judas was believed to have been red-haired), it is as shocking a moment of pure theatre as one is likely to experience at this year's Fringe. (Mark Brown - The List - 10/08/11)
THE PUBLIC REVIEWS - 11/08/11 Gareth Armstrong's play is a revisionist take on the role of Shakespeare's Shylock, prompted by Armstong's experience of feeling a sense of isolation and difference when performing the role. He elevates the minor character Tubal, Shakespeare's only other Jewish character (eight lines), as our centre stage comic guide and sympathetic friend to Shylock. He takes us gently and wittily through the centuries of British performance in the context of each historic era and its attitudes to Jewry. Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice casts Shylock as comedic villain in a romantic comedy, an essential ingredient for the times. It is our more recent perceptions that move away from this stereotype and we interpret Shylock as a tragic victim.
There is a sense of deja view in seeing the Masterson /Armstrong combo involved in a production of Shylock. Twelve years ago Masterson spotted Armstrong and his play and brought them to Edinburgh; this year Armstrong is directing his former producer in the role he himself created.
The play demands a tour-de-force performance well within Fringe veteran and master craftsman Masterson's grasp. He needs few props to portray the host of characters with energy, variety and sensitivity. Portia, Antonio, and all the Shylocks from Burbage to Keane, are presented with characteristic flair and humour. A highly recommended show. (Val Baskott - The Public Reviews - 11/08/11)
EDINBURGH SPOTLIGHT - 12/08/11 Against a background of hanging cloths covered with words that mean 'Jew' or 'Jewish' in different languages, Fringe veteran Guy Masterson in Gareth Armstrong's Shylock weaves a tapestry of rich threads from historical incidents of Jewish persecution, the playing of Shylock during the four centuries since his creation and excerpts from Shakespeare's text itself whilst also telling the story of The Merchant of Venice. These fine images are lit by charming humour and a technical design which layers scenes through light and sound and plays its own part in the entertainment.
Masterson is a charismatic storyteller with an attractive energy, dry wit and accomplished acting ability. The information neatly woven into the show is clearly delivered, with a twinkle in the eye here and a moment of stricken thought there, via witty anecdotes within a strong structure. Our very personable guide is Tubal, friend to Shylock, who makes much of the few lines given to him by Shakespeare (eight all told - you will remember that). This allows Masterson to examine the full play and the part of Shylock as well as delivering Shylock's famous lines without being tied to playing that somewhat difficult personality throughout.
The ease of delivery, while it has times where the performer seems to find the words just in that moment of speaking, might actually gain extra texture from a little less smoothness and more 'moment of inspiration' playing. Part of Masterson's charm, though, is in this easy flow of words and the style remains when he adlibs, so it is clearly an aspect of the man himself. Another aspect that would be fascinating to see developed occurs when he dons the traditional Jew mask and ginger wig for that most famous of Shylock's speeches, "Hath not a Jew eyes?". There is an extra dynamism to the physicality here that would be interesting to see subtly changed rather than totally removed, though the way in which Masterson plays this speech is nonetheless effective. The Merchant of Venice was likely fairly straightforward in its original playing as a comedy but it has developed a racial complexity since then due to the character of Shylock. He is clearly the villain of the piece - originally part of a tradition of comic caricatures - yet Shakespeare gives him an incredible speech that cuts to the heart of human respect, empathy and understanding, striking at the way in which people can view others as less-than-human simply for being different. The protagonists of the play can no longer be viewed only as heroic lovers and friends, but now are stained by their treatment of someone different from them, despite the fact that - in the end - Shylock is one who seeks another's death and is not in himself a particularly pleasant person.
Armstrong's script, looking at this development of Shylock within the context of the treatment of Jews in Europe, contains great detail of interesting facts, warm humour and solid Shakespeare in Masterson's delivery and Shylock the production is both humorous and informative entertainment. It also coincides with Masterson's 50th birthday (and Tubal's 400th anniversary!) so grab the opportunity to enjoy this celebration. (Danielle Farrow - Edinburgh Spotlight - 12/08/11)
WHATSONSTAGE.COM - 10/08/11 Fringe fixture Guy Masterson celebrates his eighteenth successive Edinburgh (and his fiftieth birthday) by performing the solo in a show he first presented in 1998.
Rather like John Gross's magnificent book of the same title, Gareth Armstrong's text is a guide to Shylock through history and performance traditions, but slyly recounted by Shylock's only friend, and the only other Jew in Shakespeare, Tubal, 'a wealthy Hebrew of my tribe.'
Tubal has eight lines in The Merchant of Venice, whereas Shylock, Masterson reminds us, is as big a Jewish deal as Moses or Barbra Streisand. Standing in the shadows of this character - variously seen as a monster, a religious victim, villain and devoted father, and one of the great tragic roles - Tubal/Masterson can put him in context, discuss the challenges and rewards of playing him.
On the way, we have a pocket digest of the play itself, its most famous speeches, as well as the trial scene and the dying fall in Belmont. The Jews were expelled from England long before Shakespeare wrote the play, so it's fascinating to see how he melds the bogeyman status of the mercantile Jew (though of course the title refers to Antonio) with his own humaneness.
Masterson discharges it all with trademark flair and bullishness, and the audience responds with as much appreciation as long held affection. (Michael Coveney - WhatsOnStage.com - 10/08/11)
ACROSS THE FESTIVALS - 22/08/11 What does successfully get the idea of reinterpreting a Shakespearian play is Guy Masterson's excellent production of Shylock, a clever look at Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and, in particular, the much demonised titular character. Told through the eyes of Tubal (a character who, in the original, only has eight lines), Gareth Armstrong's play brilliantly looks at the history behind Shakespeare's tricky work, along with how Jews have been portrayed in theatre in general. It is informative, consistently engaging and very funny. It is also a master class in how to reinterpret a classic and works for everyone, from people who've never seen a Shakespearean play to academics. Do not miss it. (Michael Cox - Across The Festivals.com 07/08/11)
FEST MAGAZINE 14/08/11 Guy Masterson has made his name presenting high-quality one-man shows internationally and on the Fringe and this production is nothing less than you would expect from a performer of his experience and expertise.
The play sees Masterson take on the role of Tubal, friend to Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and the only other Jew in the Shakespearean canon. This set up, which enables Masterson to comment on the play from the fringes of the action, works very neatly, and the actor builds up a real personality for a character who has only eight lines in the original drama. Alongside the textual analysis and dramatic set pieces runs some absorbing material relating to the persecution of the Jews throughout history and the logistics of Shakespeare's company at the Globe. Some of these stories might come across as dry in less capable hands, but Masterson keeps the audience engaged and weaves the show's several strands together to make a persuasive and theatrical piece of work that also offers plenty of laughs.
This is a hugely likeable performance from an accomplished actor and an excellent example of that Fringe favourite: the one-person play. (Jo Caird - Fest Magazine - 14/08/11)
EDINBURGH 2011 PUNTERS' REVIEWS
Gerald Hutchison 24/08/11 A tour de force. Guy Masterson's performance is brilliant. Not to be missed..
Thomas Komoly 24/08/11 Beautifully written, full of insight (assisted by some deep research) and performed to perfection. I'm not a Shakespeare lover, but the extracts spoken from the original were clear and well chosen, and references to history, attitudes, events, past actors etc. very informative without becoming boring. A joy to listen to.
Paul Kustow 23/08/11 Guy Masterson is a national treasure, not known as widely as he deserves. Shylock is a superb play, performed with humour, sensitivity and sheer brilliance by Guy Masterson, a master of the solo performance. See this is you can. You'll regret if you don't.
Robert Stodel 22/08/11 Shylock is a one man show acted by Guy Masterson about the money lender in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. He acted out parts of that play and explored the context of a money lending Jew in the play and of Jews generally at that time in Europe. This was clever and dramatic and spellbinding. I loved it. 10/10
Zvi Ziegler 21/08/11 A great solo performance by Guy Masterson . Highly provocative , and thought provoking
Suzanne Spencer 20/08/11 Having studied The Merchant of Venice this year I was particularly interested and upon seeing this show felt even more informed. Something I found very interesting and intriguing was the fact that the show was written from Tubal's point of view-a character I had generally overlooked. What struck me most about Guy Masterson's performance was his energetic pace. Not once in the 1hr15mins performance did he pause for breath or take a sip of water. Without doubt the most powerful performance at the Fringe I have seen yet. I would certainly recommend seeing this. On the whole 5 stars.
Dana Sch 19/08/11 Excellent performance! Both educating and entertaining.
Alan Barron 18/08/11 Well deliveredy the king of the one-man play holding the audience in the palm of his hand throughout
Mel Crowther 14/08/11 Forget five stars...this is a ten star performance.
Elizabeth & Nigel Pascoe 14/08/11 Guy Masterson never disappoints. This was a fascinating dissection of a very complex character, charting the way Shylock's portrayal has changed. Much humour and performed with an enthusiasm which was contagious. Praise due to its original author and player, Gareth Armstrong, who now directs with panache and skill. Definitely a 5 star performance and thoroughly recommended
Howard Becke 14/0/11 Far reaching and entertaining,history,comedy, theatre lore and acting as well. Four of us all enjoyed it.
Maureen Downie 12/08/11 Excellent. Not something we have seen before and thoroughly enjoyed by all our party even those who were not familiar with The Merchant of Venice. An impressive performance by Guy Masterson who brought different characters to life before our eyes. An interesting twist by the playright to make Tubal the narrator of the piece. All in all a good piece of theatre.
Ian Macdonald 10/08/11 This Guy is the Master. It doesn't get any better than this. *****
Sheila Brown 10/08/11 Excellent. 5 stars from me. Masterson is masterful. Wonderful performance!
Richard Kingslake 10/08/11 A brilliant performance. He takes a refreshing, deep look at Jews in Shakespeare (and else where). Wonderful!
Stephen McCarthy 09/08/11 This was a very clever production. Guy Masterson acted out what was really a lecture on the placement of Jews in plays with particular focus on The Merchant of Venice. He moved the show along with changes in his costume picked from his hamper. The vivaciousness of his performance was intoxicating albeit, very intellectual but not too highbrow to be exclusive. Powerful. Recommended.
Sean Davis 05/08/11 ***** Guy Masterson assumes the character of Tubal, Shylock's only friend in the The Merchant of Venice, to mix a complete history of Jewish persecution with a retelling of Shakespeare's story from a Jew's perspective. The blend of historical facts with Shakespeare's prose is at once lively and informative. I particularly appreciated how he presented a clear and concise synopsis of each scene before moving on to dissecting it. (Aug 5)
Keith Aitken 05/08/11 Excellent. Guy Masterson's energy and wit carry you through a wide-ranging and thoroughly researched narrative, without allowing the pace or the audience's attention to flag. A show that is informative, thought-provoking and very likeable - not too common a combination.
If the name Tubal doesn't ring any bells it's probably because he only makes only a fleeting, cameo appearance in The Merchant of Venice. Guy Masterson, however, brings him centre stage and into the spotlight to illuminate the magnificent and extravagant stage representation, Shylock.
Much ink has been spent upon The Wandering Jew. He appears in a thousand theses and discussions. Events of the 20th Century have infected the audience response. Graffiti daubed sheets hung above the stage and uncomfortably in our minds.
But back to Shakespeare. There is distinctively jaunty Jewish music playing, Guy Masterson exudes warmth with a natural gift for storytelling. There is play on the friendship between the two Jews with characteristically self depreciatory humour and woven into this, a potted dramatic history revealing the sources of The Merchant of Venice. The main outline is derived from Ser Giovanni, Il Pecorone, the caskets taken from Gower's Confessio Amantis and the daughter from Marlowe's The Jew of Malta. Energetically playing through the role using the Commedia dell'Arte red wig and bottle nose of Pantaloon, Masterson casts an eye back to the long tradition of portraying Jews as comic villains in the Morality plays.
We're kept on track with the plot whilst taking Shylock through the ages. Charles Macklin 'The Jew that Shakespeare drew' ferocious in mid 1700's, Edmund Kean early 1800's playing him flawed but human, full of racial pride ('Hath not a Jew eyes?') and Victorian, Henry Irving's intellectual stab at it.
The most enduring image I was left with was as Shylock exits humiliated, he turns and pauses to wipe spit from his cheek then drops his white handkerchief to the ground.
The post performance discussion covered motives, themes and interpretations. Shakespeare was a dramatist and drama is about the clash of ideas, the conflict between, and indeed, within characters. Such a great dramatist that into the fifth century after he wrote and performed The Merchant of Venice a disparate group of people have gathered to talk about the ideas he throws up in the air. Such a wonderful opportunity, such a privilege to meet Guy Masterson's Shylock. Whitehaven Gazette - Rosehill Theatre 14th May 2011
ADELAIDE FRINGE2011 (premiere)
Having just seen CIT's Adolf, it was an interesting experience to go straight on to see Shylock. The commonality in themes linked the two productions yet the presentation of the anti-Semitic message was extremely different. Although Shakespeare's title, The Merchant of Venice, refers to Antonio, it is the Jewish money lender, Shylock, who is the best known character. Guy Masterson introduces himself as Tubal, a minor character in Shakespeare's play, a friend of Shylock and the only other Jew in all of Shakespeare's works. With only eight lines in the play he has time to observe those around him and they way in which they treat Shylock and he treats them.
Masterson switches between Tubal and the actor playing the role, then expands the compass of his musings to stretch back over centuries of anti-Semitism, through Shakespeare's play, its history, the theatre in general and in reality. He places the play in the context of the time when it was written and the situation facing Jews throughout Europe. He goes back to Pontius Pilate, the persecution and expulsion of Jews from Europe, Barabbas, Christopher Marlowe's The Jew of Malta and the way in which he and Shylock were first portrayed through to the change in that portrayal over the years by the various famous greatactors of the past.
This is a highly rewarding exposition of Shakespeare's famous character, told with great skill and plenty of good humour by a host of characters, each brought into sharp focus by Masterson's amazingly versatile acting skills. Masterson's interpretation of every character is believable, no matter how fleetingly they appear, and it all adds up to a marvellous evening of top quality theatre that, again, should be one that is on your list (Barry Lenny - GlamAdelaide 21/02/11)
Guy Masterson arrives on stage not as Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, but his good friend Tubal. Herein lies the first of many surprises in this one-man play for lovers of history, language, politics, theatre, acting and Shakespeare.
Tubal has only eight lines in The Merchant of Venice. In this work he's co-opted by Welsh playwright Gareth Armstrong into the role of observer, analysing Shylock's function in the play, where he fits in the long history of anti-semitism, and how an actor can make him a figure of scorn or sympathy.
Masterson's Tubal is humane, funny and, befitting his unique position, a touch world-weary. He plays several other characters with the help of a hat here or slouch there, rarely skipping a beat. It s a lovely performance in a show with something for everyone. (Louise Nunn From: The Advertiser February 21, 2011)
The graphic set of giant banners covered by the word 'Jew' in dozens of languages hints that this will be something more than an evening with a single character; and 'Shylock certainly does not disappoint.
Writer/director Gareth Armstrong has created a performance vehicle that examines not just a character and its motivations but looks beyond to the treatment of the Jew in theatre and culture.
Guy Masterson commands the stage as master storyteller, impersonator and performer, delivering Armstrong's lovingly crafted text with articulate panache. A bravura performance.
How lucky we are in Adelaide to have a Fringe that provides the framework for Guy Masterson (CIT) to present such exquisite gems (Tony Busch - Adelaide Theatre Review)
You don't need ever to have seen Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice to enjoy Guy Masterson in Shylock. The actor who has performed in previous fringes in Under Milk Wood and Animal Farm is just as dynamic in this monologue written and directed by Gareth Armstrong.
Masterson plays Tubal, friend of Shylock in the famous play. Dressed in suitable Venetian or whatever attire, Tubal entwines the history of the performance of Shylock with the even older history of Jewry in Great Britain.
It is unlikely Shakespeare even met a Jew because they were banned - interesting stuff like that. Tubal recites Shylock's famous lines in the play giving in brief the entire plot including the play's origins.
Masterson creates the atmosphere of a full production, he singlehandedly does the dialogue of both Portia and Shylock in the climatic courtroom scene. He is no longer a young man yet he performs with impressive physicality and with dancing magical gestures.
There is so much fascinating information that the show has an intermission, but never a dull moment. Put together a few shekels for this one. (David Grybowski - Barefoot Review Adelaide)
Lowdown: Tubal is given more than his original eight lines in the Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice, as he narrates the lengthy history of his good friend Shylock. Guy Masterson gives an intimate performance guiding us through Shylock's psyche, motivations, thinking, and reasoning as one of the most famous villainous Jews in fiction. Or is he a victim? The recitation is interspersed with footnotes about Shylock's creator, Shakespeare; his inspiration, the Jew of Mestri in Ser Giovannai's Il Pecorone; and the original villainous Jew, Barabbas. He re-enacts scenes from The Merchant of Venice to reiterate his argument- he gives an intense and deeply moving performance that radiates energy and zeal.
Tubal greets the audience cheerfully and gives a comprehensive summary of The Merchant of Venice all the while lamenting the fact that he only has eight lines in the entire play - but eight very important lines, for he is the strong and silent type. But in this one-man show, Tubal is larger than life in giving his thesis on the infamous Jew and personal friend.
He gives a discourse on the actors throughout time who have represented Shylock including Shakespeare's good friend and muse, Richard Burbage, Irishman Charles Macklin, and Edmund Kean. Moving swiftly through guises and characters, Masterson confronts the stereotypes and thwarts the common misconceptions about Jews always coming back to Shylock and using his character to exemplify his arguments. The audience is left with a complete understanding of "The Merchant of Venice" and the complex nature of its antagonist.
The script is enlightening, honest and precise, if a little repetitive on the subject of the play's namesake, and it prudently avoids lamenting the persecution of the Jews; Tubal also takes this opportunity to bemoan his eight lines strongly procrastinating his solo performance of the key scene in The Merchant of Venice. Masterson however, delivers the lines masterfully, conducting himself swiftly through the multiple personalities entertaining, moving and delighting the audience.
The simple props force us to focus on Masterson the entire time - the stage is simply adorned with a chest emblazoned with The Merchant of Venice and contains Shylock's costumes. The spindle-legged table and chair are Tubal's only props with The Bible, a well-thumbed copy of The Merchant of Venice, and a copy of Il Pecorone. A small box on the table holds a number of badges that Jews have been forced to wear long before Hitler came into power. The five drapes in the background covered almost offensively with the word "Jew" in all its forms and dialects complements the intense and passionate performance that Masterson bestows. Although the lighting serves to differentiate the various personas and characters that Masterson transforms into, it was used to great effect to reiterate Tubal's dialogue and alter the unchanged scene.
This was an astounding performance and Masterson is a one-man spectacular that is not to be missed. His energy and the exceptional script create a performance that is understated but powerfully moving. Because of the passion and dedication behind it, it becomes driven by this, and the performance is near faultless. Shylock is sure to be added to the Adelaide Fringe repertoire. Don't wait a whole year to see it! Masterson's is an outstanding display of skill and mastery of the one-man show. (Prerna Ashok Fringereview.com 25/02/11 - Adelaide)
On a stage which just minutes before had been adorned with swastikas as the backdrop for Adolf, Guy Masterson - well known to Adelaide Fringe audiences for the high quality and energetic productions of several hit one-man shows from previous years - appeared to present the somewhat juxtaposing, yet also complimentary, story of Shylock, the Jew from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
However, it is not Shylock who enters the space and addresses the audience, but his best friend ('okay, only friend') Tubal. Or, more accurately, the actor who plays Tubal - he who has been lumped with 'second soldier from the left' for an eternity and is now delighted to find that he has a part with a name. Masterson gives the character a child-like exuberance, maintaining high energy levels and a cracking pace throughout. He inhabits the stage space and keeps the audience on their toes. The interval does interrupt this flow somewhat, but is undoubtedly necessary for Masterson to catch his breath.
What makes this piece work so well is the seamless intertwining of an informative history lesson - relating to both the background of the play and the persecution of the Jewish people throughout Europe over the last 2000 years - an intellectual exploration of the Shakespearean text and a comedic psychological portrait of the actor, desperate to prove the importance of his role. It is structured in such a way that those who are familiar with the original play will delight in the interpretations of the prose, while those with little knowledge will still be able to understand and appreciate what is happening. This is a humourous, intellectually engaging and educational piece. (IMiriamK - Kryztoff Adelaide 21/02/11)
From the moment the lights dim and Guy Masterson commences, I am transported into the world of Shylock. Playing the role of Shylock's friend Tubal, Masterson recounts the story of Shakespeare-s famous moneylender, one of literature's most well-known Jews. Using The Merchant Of Venice as a springboard, Masterson takes the audience on a wide-ranging journey that considers Jewish characterisation in print and on stage throughout history, visiting the worlds of the Old Testament, Barrabas (the Jew of Malta) and Count Dracula. The broader, and more important, issues of marginalisation and persecution of Jewish people are woven into the narrative, and applied with Masterson's usual skill. This is, on surface level, a humorous piece, although the serious elements of the major themes are not overlooked. The balance is near-perfect.
Writer and Director Gareth Armstrong's creation is inspired, and Masterson brings a great deal of energy and affability to the role. Final Word: Thoughtful. (David Robinson - Ripitup Adelaide - 24/02/11)
PAST REVIEWS (when played by Gareth Armstrong)
"Shylock deserves to be packed out every show. It reflects the deepest love and understanding of Shakespeare's genius, and mixes us adeptly into the problems, pressures, traditions, censors prejudices and passions of Elizabethan theatre." (The Scotsman)
"Innovative, delightful, exceptional!" (The Independent)
"His wit and charm seduce... Outstanding!" (The Guardian)
"Powerful...witty and intelligent...Armstrong gets right beneath the skin of the man who insists on his pound of flesh." (Western Daily Express)
"Anyone who is interested in Sha kespeare or history, or who thinks they understand the issues within anti-Semitism should...no MUST see this play." (The Salisbury Journal)
GUY MASTERSON- Adapter & Performer (click on name for additional biographical material)
After obtaining a Joint Honours degree in Biochemistry and Chemistry from Cardiff University in 1982, Guy Trained in theatre at UCLA’s School of Drama and started as an actor in 1985 in Hollywood. He returned to the UK in 1989 to study further at LAMDA.
Following a conventional start in plays, film and television, Guy began solo performing in 1991 with The Boy’s Own Story and thence Under Milk Wood in 1994 and Animal Farm in 1995. He first produced/directed in 1993 with Playing Burton and participated at the Edinburgh Festival for the first time in 1994. The following 23 seasons saw his association with some of Edinburgh’s most celebrated hits (see company history) and his company became the Fringe’s most awarded independent theatre producer garnering 8 Scotsman Fringe Firsts, 3 Herald Angels 25 Stage Award nominations (including 4 wins) together with and numerous lesser awards. In 2014, his epic production of Animal Farm the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre of Tbilisi, Georgia, won the Stage Award for Best Ensemble. His 2010 production of Morecambe transferred to the West End and won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment plus another nomination for the actor playing Eric.
As a performer, he was nominated for The Stage Award for Best Actor for A Soldier’s Song (1998), Under Milk Wood in 2003, Shylock in 2011, and won in 2001 with Fern Hill & Other Dylan Thomas. He received Edinburgh’s most prestigious accolade, the Jack Tinker Spirit of the Fringe Award, in 2003. His passion is to bring great ideas to life and new talent to the stage. At Edinburgh 2016 he created his first stand-up comic piece, Barking Mad!
He is married to Brigitta and father to Indigo and Tallulah...
GARETH ARMSTRONG Writer/Director Since graduating in Drama from Hull University, Gareth has combined the roles of actor and director throughout a career that has taken to him to over fifty countries. From an early association with Shakespeare through the National Youth Theatre his roles have ranged from Romeo to Richard III, and from Puck to Prospero. He has been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and worked at Shakespeare's Globe and in the West End.
Gareth was a founder Director of the Made in Wales Stage Company, presenting new Anglo-Welsh plays, and was an Artistic Director of Cardiff's Sherman Theatre where he directed classics, new plays and the modern repertoire. As a freelance he has directed in theatres all over Britain and has worked as a guest director in Europe and America. He was an Associate Artist at Salisbury Playhouse, and works as an Associate Director of the US based company, AFTLS, which tours and teaches in campuses across the States.
He performed in his own one-man show, Shylock, for ten years and the play, which has won several international awards, has been translated for the stage into Italian, Spanish, French, and Russian, filmed for Dutch television and broadcast on Romanian radio. He now specializes in directing other solo performers, and his book on the subject - How to do a Solo Show - has recently been published by Nick Hern Books, who also commissioned his first book, A Case for Shylock - Around the World with Shakespeare's Jew which has a foreword by Judi Dench.
PERFORMER'S NOTE: I have been fascinated by the character Shylock since I first saw The Merchant of Venice in 1985 at the age of 13. I was thrilled whenever he appeared and disappointed he was only in one third of the play! I, like many others, had wrongly assumed that Shylock was the merchant of the title and disappointed that his story was over so quickly. Even so, I still thought of his as the 'starring role' because it was taut, dramatic, powerful and moving. Conversely, I found the characters of Bassanio - the romantic lead and, dare I say it, Portia - the heroine - as hugely disagreeable, lying cheats, and felt very strongly that Shylock had been rather harshly treated.
I didn't see the play again until the writer of Shylock, Gareth Armstrong, asked me to co-produce this play with him in 1997. He was playing Shylock for Jonathan Church at Salisbury Playhouse and was so intrigued by his research into the character that he'd decided to write it. Gareth's portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant at Salisbury was powerfully implaccable, frustratingly determined, yet always full of integrity and entirely human... and this had the effect of making everyone else in the play even more monstrous than I had remembered!
Having now worked on Shylock and performed him for 5 years, I now beleive that Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice is actually a supremely crafted piece of 17th Century anti-racism, but which, due to its probably deliberate ambiguities, has often been misinterpreted by its audience. Indeed, through the centuries, Shylock, was normally presented as a comic villain caricature illustrating the popular view of Jews at the time.. Yet, there is enough overt anti-Semitism and victimisation in the play to give Shylock more than adequate reason for behaving the way he does. The resultant caricature might be monstrous, but his reasons for seeking revenge are undeniable. He wants his day in court.
Shakespeare's play certainly reflects the overt antisemitism of both the 15th century - when the play is set - and the 17th century when the play premiered, but as the popular depiction of Jews softened through the ages, so too portrayals of Shylock shifted from revengeful comic villain caricature towards emotive naturalism. My belief is that Shakespeare managed to balance the reality of the popular perception of Jews with the unfairness meeted out to him. The Merchant Of Venice in its crudest form can easily come across as anti-semitic: When Shylock is portrayed as a revengful bitter villain seeking to kill Antonio, it's pretty blantant. Portia's harsh treatment of him seems deserved - but the play itself becomes simply 'us-versus-them'. But then, if he's played purely as as fawning victim angling for sympathy, the ambiguity and tension of the play is dissipated. Gareth's Shylock in Salisbury poised him perfectly as a victim... but not so much of overt anti-semitism, but more of his own implaccability, blinded by his determination to make a stand against the injustice and intolerance... Thus, Johnathan Church's production became tragic and moving...
And for those who think of Shakespeare as a closet anti-semite, I like to think that he perhaps wrote one more scene where Portia and Antonio showed remorse for their mistreatment of Shylock... but then decided to leave it on the cutting-room floor as a subtle yet scornful revenge on the racists, for, regardless of how the groundlings would have reacted to Shylock as a comic villain, his mistreatment - as representative of the overt discrimination of the time - and Shylock's plight, would not have been lost on the intelligencia.
Gareth's success with Shylock let to ten years touring it around the world. I took up the mantle with Gareth directing me in 2011. I have since performed it around the USA, in Australia, New Zealand, Giorgia and all around the UK and I am very honoured to carry the torch. (Guy Masterson)
DIRECTOR'S NOTE: Perhaps with the exception of Hamlet, more has been written about Shylock than any other Shakespeare character. Many scholars strive to disprove the perception that their playwright idol could have been an anti-semite in creating such a vengeful character and Shylock continues to perplex, infuriate and fascinate academics, audiences and theatre professionals alike. Many find the plot and characters of The Merchant of Venice uncomfortable, and directors often attempt to soften the character by cutting or distorting the text.
As a play, The Merchant of Venice is ostensibly a romantic comedy about the wooing and winning of the heroine, Portia, by the hero, Bassanio, but the sub-plot of the Jewish moneylender who demands a pound of human flesh in return for an unpaid debt is so theatrically potent that it dominates the plot. Indeed, Shylock, with only five scenes and less than a quarter of Hamlet's lines, hijacks the play.
For actors, Shylock is a magnet of a part. After playing it, all too briefly in at Salisbury Playhouse in 1997, I found I couldn't let him go and so made him the subject of this play. My fascination of the man is his position as the ultimate outsider in a hostile world. The other characters, with the exception of his only friend Tubal, talk at him, not to him, so his ghastly desire for revenge is the reaction of one who feels impotent and rejected by society, a phenomenon we are all too aware of in society today. I find it difficult to like Shylock as a person, but have come some way to understanding him.
Guy's connection with this play goes back to its very first performance at Salisbury. Physically and in most aspects of our personalities Guy and I are very different, so working on the play together has led us both to re-examine not only Shakespeare's creations, but the theatrical framework in which they are placed. It was always going to be a wrench to let another British actor inhabit the skin I felt was truly mine, but Guy has discovered, as I did, that only an actor knows what it is to be Shylock. (Gareth Armstrong)
The Storyline: Through the character of Tubal, Shylock's erstwhile friend in
The Merchant of Venice and "the only other Jewish man in the whole of Shakespeare", Shylock's extraordinary role is explained in the context of both, the play and the way in which Jews have been treated across the centuries.
It is a definitive piece of educational theatre: From the Gospel of St Matthew to the present, Jews have been subjected to exclusion, expulsion, The Blood Libel and The Holocaust. The manner in which Shylock has been portrayed across the centuries has reflected the popular opinion of Jews.
Students get an insight in to the social and political context of the period, as well as into the characters of the play.
Students of Literature and Shakespeare are treated to an exploration of the origins and influences of his work and the subsequent incarnations of the The Merchant of Venice over the centuries.
Themes include religion, religious persecution, racism and theatre itself, making Shylock a rich and fertile source of historical, literary, theatrical and religious education.
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SHYLOCK runs 85 minutes is played with an interval. (1st half 45 mins, 2nd half, 40 mins)
Lighting should be hung and focused IN ADVANCE. Fine focusing can be completed upon arrival of artiste and will take approx. 90 minutes. Gobos (D & G) supplied for Fire & Breakup (NB: No holders)
Programming will consist of 13 states A through K & F1, F2 and combinations of these in approximately 50 cues. All timings must be pre-programmed where possible. (Programming Time 1 hr after focus.)
Running the show involves following the script with explicitly numbered and light and sound cues. Script provided on day. Rehearsal time with technician 1 hour.
Sound effects in 10 prelevelled cues are pre-mixed on Apple Laptop. (mini-jack to desk input lead needed) GOOD STEREO equipment & desk required.
If driving, the company will bring company will bring Table, Chair & Trunk.
If coming by ticketed transport, Guy Masterson will require locally sourced set pieces (see pics above) 1 Table (either square or Round), 1 large travelling trunk OR wicker basket, one wooden chair.
Clean black tabs and backdrop. If the stage is very scuffed, please repaint or lay dance floor.
Special notes: From experience, it is best to set the A spot first which should be focused to encompass a 2m tall man standing (about 450 from vertical - just upstage of the proscenium).The E state (Lee 117 wash) should light an area to within 1m of the sides of the playing space, but all the way to the front, so as to create a pool of blue light effect (Try not to spill onto backcloth). The C (Lee 103) warm general cover is self-explanatory but please include back and top light.
Guy Masterson will require a clean dressing room with ironing & tea making facilities. Please provide refreshments for 4pm. Please ensure the shower (if available) is clean and a fresh towel and soap are available.
NB: LIGHTING SHOULD BE PREPARED IN ADVANCE - max programming/rehearsal time should be 4 hours
Any queries please contact TTI on the above numbers.
IF ALL LX CUES ARE PRE-PROGRAMMED THIS PRODUCTION CAN BE OPERATED BY ONE COMPETENT TECHNICIAN. (SOUND, LIGHTS and MIC ARE GO BUTTON OPPED AND ALL SFX ARE PRE-LEVELLED.) BUT... IF SOUND AND LIGHTS CANNOT BE OPPED FROM SAME AREA, THE SHOW WILL REQUIRE TWO OPERATORS. Rehearsal time with venue operators after focus: 1.5 hours max.
Image of ideal trunk. Openable. 90cm x 90cm x 45cm. Wicker basket of similoar size also suitable. OR Two large old looking suitcases.
Image of suitable wooden chair required when company is travelling by rail or air.
Image of suitable wooden table approx 70cm high and 70cm square required when company is travelling by rail or air
Image of suitable coctail table approx 70cm high by 60cm diameter required when company is travelling by rail or air