Why we need Tracy-Ann Oberman

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Why we need Tracy-Ann Oberman

The actor who wears her activist heart on her sleeve returns as Shylock in January

Brigit Grant is the Jewish News Supplements Editor

Tracy-Ann Oberman, a force of nature
Tracy-Ann Oberman, a force of nature

We can never take Tracy-Ann Oberman for granted. A constant presence at community events, TAO as we fondly dub her, is one of very few Jewish actors who is willing to stick her neck above the parapet, identify and call out antisemitism. But it’s bigger than that.

On social media she is Boudica among the keyboard warriors, always  battling  hate against Jews and muting any waffling fool spouting misogyny. Tracy-Ann doesn’t need 280 characters to slay a bigot or to expose the silence of those who hide in the shadows and were not with her in the glittering front row with Eddie Marsan, Elliot Levey, Dame Maureen Lipman and others at the March against Antisemitism on November 26.

The Merchant of Venice 1936

That Tracy-Ann was there at all shows her commitment as she had to leg it to London from Manchester where she was starring in the acclaimed production, The Merchant of Venice 1936 in which she plays Shylock, but as a widowed single mother and pogrom survivor living on Cable Street standing up to the Blackshirts.

Tracy-Ann reimagined the Shakespeare classic with director Brigid Larmour and sets the story of Shylock -now a matriarch and pawnbroker – against Oswald Mosley’s campaign of persecution.

The play which has just been nominated for a WhatsOnStage Award (you can vote for it) has had a sell out tour across the country, opened  at Watford Palace Theatre in March. Delayed because of Covid and then funding, Tracy-Ann’s passion pushed it over the line and she even did the publicity.

But Tracy-Ann could never have  imagined that the “project of her life” would overlap on the calendar with the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Eddie Marsan, Tracy-Ann, Rachel Riley and Elliot Levey

Audiences rarely consider the issues troubling actors as they are performing, nor should they have to, but appearing in The Merchant while hate for Jews both actual and virtual is virtually everywhere has been a challenge for the actor who wears her activist heart on her sleeve.

In the aftermath of the Israel atrocities red paint and graffiti appeared on Jewish schools and the Wiener Holocaust Library as Tracy-Ann stood on stage against the same backdrop.

But there joy in what she has achieved amid the sadness as she is bringing the play to a new generation of theatregoers with information and resources available on the RSC site as well as talks after performances.

Missing TAO in MOV is not an option, for though it closed at HOME Manchester on December 2, it is at the Swan Theatre RSC, Stratford on Avon from  24th Jan –10th Feb https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-merchant-of-venice/


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