The Merchant of Venice (1968): Birmingham Repertory Theatre

PrThe Merchant of Venice (

Live Performance

PRINCIPAL CAST: Jane Bond (Portia); Desmond McNamara (Antonio); Zia Mohyeddin (Shylock); Brian Smith (Bassanio).

This production ran from 1 October - 30 November 1968.

"This is a subdued, subtle, adroitly sustained Merchant. Director Peter Dews steers it that way. He goes for the play itself rather than a play on one, or perhaps two, of its durably debatable aspects. Maybe this stems from his confessed astonishment that this is the first production of The Merchant of Venice at the Rep since 1919 - a virtual half century in which the world that is a stage has created a contrasting succession of Shylocks, big and small, each mirroring a particular passage in time. For his 1968 choice, Mr. Dews brings Zia Mohyeddin, the Pakistani actor, to Birmingham. A Shylock for our time? If one feels subjective, it is possible in any play to see what one wants to see: this bridge from stage to audience is essential theatre, no matter how right or wrong the impressions gained. Mr. Mohyeddin is a searching Shylock and within this search can be detected the 'civilised' taint of racialism. He is the immigrant in a different society: to be used as mush as to be abused. The quiet strength of his Shylock is that, despite his calculated quest for vengeance, he can extract pity at his downfall, rather than emotion with his 'Hath not a Jew eyes?' It is splendid acting; thought-provoking interpretation."  ~ F.N., "Thumbs-up for the 'Merchant'", Birmingham Post, 3 October 1968

"It is dressed in 18th-century costumes. This is no more than passing odd; and the costumes themselves are beautiful and the set simple and striking. The play is spoken extraordinarily well. When Portia tells Shylock that the quality of mercy is not strained she rounds on him with a sudden quelling passion. The last scene, in which the exchange of rings is worked out, is an utterly improbable sequel to Shylock's downfall. It comes off because the poetry is spoken with beautiful deliberation and timing. But with none of this, the production would still be remarkable for Zia Mohyeddin's Shylock. This Jew is in early middle age. He is neat and sober in his dress. When he learns of Jessica's elopement he appears with his hair slightly dishevelled, a hint of a bear breast. This refusal to tear a passion to tattrs of clothing heightens the intensity of Shylock's rage. Mr. Mohyeddin plays the part for all it is worth. It is a most memorable performance."  ~ W.E.H., "Merchant of Birmingham Repertory Theatre", no citation on press clip at V&A Theatre and Performance archive

"Zia Mohyeddin's Shylock is a restrained but imaginatively powerful performance. In his interpretation Shylock the moneylender is keen but not devious; a professional man, one might say, with a pride in his work and still more in his ancestry, and for that reason able to enjoy a somewhat wry, dry humour at the resentments aroused in prospective gentil clients. His Jewish gabardine is soberly impeccable, and Mr. Mohyeddin suggests more emotion, a greater depth of feeling, by the merest disarray of his cloak, his shirt front and his proud composure than many an actor could do in tearing a passion to tatters."  ~ "Antonio links three stories in the Rep's Merchant of Venice", Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 11 October 1968

Pe People involved in this production