British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database
Shylock (1982): Library Theatre, Manchester
PRINCIPAL CAST: Mike Bretton (Antonio); Mark Jefferis (Bassanio); Anastasia Rodriguez (Portia); Bronwyn Baud (Jessica).
This production ran from 10 - 27 November 1982.
Anastasia Rodriguez had changed her name from Esther Byrd to Anastasia Rodriguez. Therefore she had played Portia in the original production of Shylock: A Musical at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester in 1981. She is in this database twice under two different names.
"The production has undergone some revision since its first appearance at the 1974 Edinburgh Festival and although one or two sequences could still stand a little pruning the overall picture is a highly successful one. The music is wide-ranging in its style. The opening stately Latin chant gives way to a vigorous 'pop' sound, there are near 'blues' numbers, a Hebrew canticle, and most delightful of all a charming setting of How sweet the moonlight sleeps. All this has been achieved without losing any of the essential story and Bentley has been able to retain a surprisingly large amount of the original Shakespearean script. The whole thing makes considerable demands on the team of eight players who between them play eighteen parts. Happily all are fully equal to them. The author himself gives us a restrained performance in the title part, and there is a warm-hearted Portia from Anastasia Rodriguez who is at her best when she controls her strong voice in her early number When will the day ever dawn." ~ Frank Bruckshaw, The Stage, 16 December 1982
"Tales of near-miss musicals form some of the more fascinating pages of theatrical history. And Shylock - now revived in a high-energy production at the Library Theatre - has a story to tell other than the one about the pound of flesh....The Library production goes back to the original [1974 Edinburgh production], with the show's two creators - Roger Haines, who wrote the music, directs and Paul Bentley (book and lyrics) plays Shylock. And it's easy to see why the show still plagues them - it's far from the monumental disaster of the London experience. But it's also not the hit the initial Edinburgh reaction suggested. Tantalising. The whole concept is very close, both in treatment and often in sound, to [the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical] Jesus Christ Superstar. Shakespeare's story has been cleverly compressed and it's told in a style the Superstar creators dubbed 'rock opera' - i.e., there's very little dialogue. The score, which has some impressive moments and includes several big tunes, ranges from hard rock to romantic ballads and comic numbers for Portia's suitors. The lyrics are mostly OK, sometimes verging towards the banal. It has a lot going for it. But in the final analysis I felt uninvolved. The production needs more light and shade and less frenzy. Better sound balancing between the singers and on-stage band would do a lot to aid enjoyment. The eight-strong cast, all with good voices, work very hard indeed. Anastasia Rodriguez's black Portia is particularly watchable and so is Mark Jefferis as a petrified Bassanio." ~ Alan Hulme, "Last night: Shylock", Manchester Evening News, 1982
"Paul Bentley, who also wrote the book and lyrics, is a truly tragic Shylock, but the show is almost stolen by Anastasia Rodriguez, a lovely Caribbean Portia with a dark-brown voice." ~ L. K. "Merchant with music", Stockport Express Advertiser, 19 November 1982
"At the Library Theatre it's Portia's show for a change, not the Jew's. Not only does Anastasia Rodriguez have two or three tuneful songs going for her - she also sings them the way Elkie Brooks might. A luscious-looking black singer in purple and gold with glittering, beaded hair, the only problem she had was with her accoutrement - the sparkling pendant disappeared for a while, the dress ripping revealingly to her thigh. These niggling details were riveting mostly because the show was so relentlessly shrill and boring. The lighter side of it involved one silly singing and dancing foreigner after another, hovering over the caskets while Portia egged them on like a quiz show hostess....The grim bit was a Jewish group - led by a rather dull Shylock - beating their breasts, longing for revenge, and - in the shape of Shylock - eventually being crushed. Tawdry jokes about circumcision didn't help. A barmitz-vah would have been more fun." ~ Irene McManus, Guardian, 11 November 1982
"Anastasia Rodriguez's quality as a blues singer lends a new dimension to Portia" ~ Stella Flint, Daily Telegraph, 11 November 1982
"Of all Shakespeare's plays, the one which needs the most delicate presentation, is The Merchant of Venice, in which the role of Shylock provides a real challenge; and only a sensitive and intelligent portrayal by a first class actor can render this play at all 'palatable' to any Jew who might be in that audience. How obvious this fact became in the lighthearted musical, Shylock at the Library Theatre, where the leading role was played by the play's adaptor Paul Bentley - in a role that 'merely scratched the surface,' so presenting a mere caricature of a Jew; and therefore giving offence by the very nature of a portrayal without depth!...The light and shade of [Shakespeare's] character bring sympathy and compassion to the fore. "Shylock", as a character in a trite musical, however, came no nearer to reality than Punch and Judy in puppet show! If it were possible merely to 'sit back and enjoy', then perhaps I could commend this bright 'hotch potch' of a musical; I could tell of the joy which songbird Anastasia Rodriguez brings to her Portia; or the pantomime quality of waggish humour that Jeannie Harris imparts as Nerissa. But in reality, my reaction was not of joy or humour, but rather that my overall feeling was of bitterness that a work of Shakespeare had to be used as a vehicle of a cheap parody; which, in the end, had become hurtful and cruel." ~ M. M., "The crueul unreality of Shylock to music", Jewish Gazette, 19 November 1982
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