EastEnders star Tracy-Ann Oberman's hotly anticipated performance in The Merchant of Venice 1936 is under way at Watford Palace Theatre - inspired by her great grandmother's experience fighting fascism.

Originally scheduled for 2020 but delayed due to the Covid pandemic, the show charts the growth of the British Fascist party in London's 1930s East End and the community rejecting their hatred in the famous Battle of Cable Street.

Directed by Brigid Larmour, Tracy-Ann Oberman, who also starred in Friday Night Dinner, wrote the show and plays main character Shylock.

She was inspired to reframe William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice drawing on her own great grandmother's experience as a single mother living in London's East End. 

"I’ve always wanted to reclaim Merchant in some way and wanted to see how it would change with a single mother Shylock. My own great-grandma and great aunts were single mothers, widows, left in the East End to run the businesses and the homes, which they did with an iron fist," Oberman said.

Her great grandmother and her sons - Tracy’s great uncles - were part of the Battle of Cable Street on October 4, 1936, a watershed moment of popular resistance to fascism in Britain. The East End stood together to stop Sir Oswald Mosley’s uniformed British Union of Fascists confrontational march through this predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. 

Watford Observer:

Watford Observer:

She continued: "When I spoke about it to Brigid, she instantly got it, and said it gave a brilliant way into the problematic aspects of characters like Antonio and Portia. She saw them as aristocratic young Mosleyites, supporters of the British Union of Fascists led by Oswald Mosley. That led us to Cable Street, with pawn shops and moneylending under the counter of shmatter stalls and seamstress jobs, in the weeks leading up to Mosley’s fascist march against ‘The Jew’ in 1936.

"This adaptation will appeal to all immigrant families with strong matriarchs. Everything starts and ends at home and strong mothers have always understood this.” 

Watford Observer:

The production is created in partnership with Watford Palace Theatre and Trafalgar Entertainment, supported by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Brigid Larmour is artistic director and chief executive of Watford Palace Theatre.

The Merchant of Venice 1936 runs at Watford Palace Theatre until March 11.

Tuesday - Saturday: 7.30pm, Saturday matinees at 2.30pm

Tickets from £15 at watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk or call 01923 225671