Kiss Me Kate is credited with reviving Cole Porter’s flagging post-war career and from Opera North’s glorious revival it’s easy to see why. Sam and Bella Spewack, the Jewish power couple behind the book, had worked with Porter before and Bella insisted Porter was invited to write…
A visually intriguing gift from the late graphic designer Abram Games for the bard's 454th birthday. In 1975 Abram Games, one of Britain’s greatest graphic designers, was commissioned to make a Centenary Appeal poster for the Royal Shakespeare Company. His brilliant solution was to become known beyond…
As the long-awaited date of the first performance of The Merchant of Venice in the Venice Ghetto itself arrives this week, in the last of our series of interviews with members of the company, JR's arts editor Judi Herman talks to French-American actor Paul Spera. Based in Paris, Spera plays Lorenzo, the Christian youth who elopes with Shylock's daughter, Jessica – and plenty of his money and jewels – thus goading the distraught father into seeking the revenge that leads to his demand for the famous pound of flesh from Antonio, the merchant of the title. Spera is interesting casting for the role of the Christian lad who steals away with the Jewish girl as he is half Jewish himself. And so we come full circle with this series of interviews with members of Compagnia de Colombari, for we began with Michelle Uranowitz aka Jessica herself.
As the long-awaited date of the first performance of The Merchant of Venice in the Venice Ghetto itself arrives this week, in the last of our series of interviews with members of the company, JR's arts editor Judi Herman talks to actress Francesca Sarah Toich. Playing the role of Lancillotto, the servant to Shylock and confidante of Jessica, his daughter, normally a male role, but here intriguingly played by Toich, as a sort of cross-gender Harlequin figure. Italy-based Francesca is an award-winning performer who combines skills and experience in the very physical Commedia dell Arte tradition with a huge vocal range.
In the next of our chats with members of the cast and creative team of the very first production of The Merchant of Venice to be staged in the Venice Ghetto itself, Judi Herman talks to Welsh actress Jenni Lea-Jones, who has relocated to Venice and is perhaps the most unusual of the five performers sharing the role of Shylock in the show they are calling The Merchant in Venice. Apologies for the quality of the line at the start of this conversation, which happily soon improves.
In the next of our chats with members of the cast and creative team of the very first production of The Merchant of Venice to be staged in the Venice Ghetto itself, Judi Herman talks to Frank London, composer and musician. The Grammy-winning trumpeter and composer, founder of the Klezmatics and leader of bhangra/Yiddish group Sharabi (with Deep Singh), Shekhinah Big Band, and his Klezmer Brass Allstars is no stranger to large-scale collaborative projects, or of course to Jewish-themed work. Here he talks about the musicians who are working with him on this project and his inspirations for the music that will be heard in the Ghetto.
See Alexandra & Nikole Stoica, the twin violin virtuosos from Romania that Frank talks about, who will play in the production: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmg-mPSAeCE
Hear music by Salomone Rossi (his beautiful Kaddish – the mourner's prayer), the 17th-century, Italian-Jewish composer, who was one the inspirations that Frank mentions: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBBXYsdt8Jk
"Rehearsals are going well! We’ve gone from table work to staging and it’s important to figure out the geometry of the space. Everyone is very excited with how the project is progressing and we’re making some very cool discoveries in the rehearsal room. In this photograph you see us debating over a line in the trial scene, which different versions of the play have different wordings for."
As the celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the Venice Ghetto continue, excitement mounts over the first ever performances of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in the Ghetto itself (26-31 July). In the next of a series of interviews with members of the cast and creative team, JR's arts editor Judi Herman talks to Londoner Davina Moss, currently studying dramaturgy at university in New York, to find out more about her role as assistant dramaturg on this unique production.
Visit www.themerchantinvenice.org for more info.
As the celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the Venice Ghetto continue, excitement mounts over the first ever performances of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in the Ghetto itself (26-31 July). JR's arts editor Judi Herman will be talking to various members of the cast and creative team in the coming weeks, but first spoke to American actor Michelle Uranowitz about playing Shylock's rebellious daughter Jessica in Venice.
Visit www.themerchantinvenice.org for more info.
Howard Jacobson was writing J, a novel about a dystopic (non-) Jewish future, when publisher Hogarth invited him to join a relay team retelling Shakespeare in contemporary settings. He was assigned The Merchant of Venice – an inspired choice that allowed him to tell the story from Shylock’s perspective. But Jacobson’s blinder, proving again his extraordinary inventiveness, is to have Shylock slip into present-day Cheshire to share the narrative with his 21st-century counterpart Simon Strulovitch, and chew over his own story as told by Shakespeare. Shylock arrives without fanfare as the story opens, not in Venice but in a bleak Jewish cemetery in Manchester, the city where Jacobson was raised. He is communing with his long-dead wife Leah, “buried deep beneath the snow”. So Shylock engages the reader’s sympathy: within this take on the play is a meditation on loss, as well as scabrous satire on the materialistic celebrity denizens of Cheshire’s ‘Golden Triangle’.
For Jacobson, the beating heart of Shakespeare’s Shylock is not in the defiant speeches he throws in the faces of the Christians who bait him, but in his response to the news that his errant daughter Jessica has exchanged his ring for a monkey. “I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor. I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.” Around these lines Jacobson builds his case for Shylock in love, bereaved – and the lone parent who cannot give his daughter what she needs.
Strulovitch, visiting his mother’s grave recognises Shylock and invites him home. And so begins their relationship, played out in a succession of conversations, the pair ensconced in armchairs, cradling brandy, comparing notes on errant daughters, discussing every move and motive and most of the dialogue that drives Shylock in Shakespeare’s play. They analyse the contradictions driving Strulovitch, “a rich, furious, easily hurt philanthropist with on-again off-again enthusiasms”, and the butt of antisemitism, above all from the effete aesthete D’Anton (Jacobson’s Antonio) a rival art collector,Strulovitch, visiting his mother’s grave, recognises Shylock and invites him home. And so begins their relationship, played out in a succession of conversations, the pair ensconced in armchairs, cradling brandy, comparing notes on errant daughters, discussing every move and motive and most of the dialogue that drives Shylock in Shakespeare’s play. They analyse the contradictions driving Strulovitch, “a rich, furious, easily hurt philanthropist with on-again off-again enthusiasms”, and the butt of antisemitism, above all from the effete aesthete D’Anton (Jacobson’s Antonio) a rival art collector who has made smiling sorrowfully at his own Weltschmerz into an art form.
As in the play, the Christians revel in their antisemitism, even vying to top each other’s ‘Jewpithets’ by referring to Strulovitch as “moneybags”, “thick-lips” and “hook-nose”. Strulovitch is arguably worse off than Shylock: his wife is trapped by a stroke in a useless body. His daughter Beatrice, of an age with Jessica, is vividly present, though her father dreads her frequent absences as she threatens to spend the night with a succession of unsuitable men – none of them Jewish, of course. Jessica is absent from the novel, because Jacobson has Shylock caught as if in aspic at the end of Shakespeare’s story. As Shylock says, for him there is no Act Five (his last appearance is leaving court in Act Four).
Jacobson’s gift for comedy glisters pure gold as he makes merciless fun of the self-obsessed celebs surrounding his Portia – a reality TV hostess and plastic surgery addict called Plurabelle, whose full name is Anna Livia Plurabelle Cleopatra A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever Christine. And there’s more fun with names. Enter Gratan Howsome, politically incorrect footballer of little brain with the hots for Jewesses, and hunky but vacuous arm-candy Barnaby, Plurabelle’s squeeze and D’Anton’s protégé.
If you know your Shakespeare you’ll hug yourself as you work out Jacobson’s deliciously witty reworking of his plot lines. In a twist on the casket scene, Plurabelle tests her suitors by having them choose between her three cars – a Merc, BMW or humble Beetle. And circumcision is central to an ingenious if potentially grisly plotline. Jacobson plunders his source text and other authors for quotes, sometimes bending their words, always putting them to great use. He grants Shylock his Act Five, calling his last chapter just that. But even this may not be his final act, for if he is Strulovitch’s Shylock, who is to say where he has appeared before or might appear again? Hogarth’s commission is a gripping addition to Jacobson’s writing on what it is to be Jewish.
By Judi Herman
Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson, Hogarth Shakespeare, £16.99. Read Judi Herman's interview with Howard Jacobson over on the JR website, first published in the January 2016 issue of Jewish Renaissance.
Howard Jacobson will talk about his book at Jewish Book Week on Sunday 28 February, 5pm, at King’s Place. www.jewishbookweek.com