Edinburgh Fringe 2011
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.