It is sad to think that the issues of political correctness actor John Huston brought up in his SHYLOCK when it first played here a decade or so ago, have not only continued but have blossomed in our time like a malignant flower. The work is much updated and remains a riveting piece of thought-provoking theatre that easily bears repeated viewing. It appeals on many levels and although it is obviously built on the Shakespearean character from The Merchant of Venice Huston’s play (written by Mark Leiren-Young) is a passionate and articulate plea for art and free speech.
When we first see Shylock he is in full Elizabethan garb. His nose is pronounced and hawk-like, his voice a whine and his stance that of a man used to grovelling. His hair falls in lank locks. Shylock intones the famous speech of the usurer, “If you prick me do I not bleed?” He coldly demands his “pound of flesh.”
Back in 1603, when Shakespeare wrote the play, the attitude towards Jews was harshly anti-Semitic. When creating Shylock, the Bard wrote to the conventions of the time. It is a view that makes many uncomfortable today and that provides much of the basis of Huston’s play.
Actor John Davies (Huston) has dared to play the character the way Shakespeare originally wrote him. It sets off a fire-storm in the politically correct crowd. The actor is attacked in the press. He is called a traitor to his (Jewish) roots. Protesters call his interpretation a “wretched piece of pro-Nazi propaganda.” There are letters to the editor and petitions on the internet. In his defense Davies thunders, “Isn’t it the job of theatre to provoke you and your job to figure out what it’s all about?” The run of the play is cancelled.
What follows is something of a rant but Huston is intense, committed and has such a command of material and audience (and is so entertaining) that not for a second are you bored. John Huston is an actor who sets the bar very high for one-man shows.