Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

12/10/2016 - 12/10/2016

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

09/10/2016 - 09/10/2016

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

19/10/2016 - 22/10/2016

Nelson Arts Festival 2016

Dunedin Arts Festival 2016

Production Details

As one of only two Jewish male characters in the whole of Shakespeare, Shylock (Merchant of Venice) has always divided opinion. Is he a villain or a victim? 

This award winning, poignant, powerful yet humorous performance brings us Shylock afresh in one of the most globally successful solo shows of the last decade. 

Guy Masterson demonstrates his brilliance in a performance that celebrates the beauty of language, the power of history and the magic of theatre. 

Shylock, for one performance only, delivers everything you want from theatre: an informative and thought provoking story, a solid whack of comedic entertainment and a stunning display of talent. 

Best Solo Performance Edinburgh Festival 2011 

Fortune Theatre 
Sun 9 Oct 2pm
Adult $45/$40
Fortune Member $32
Tertiary Student $25
School Student $20 
 Buy Tickets  

Nelson Arts Festival 2016
Wed 12 Oct, 7.30pm
85 mins, plus interval
FULL $48
UNDER 19 $25
(Dinner at Harrys + ticket to the show)
SPECIAL see both of Guy’s shows for $80
(Two Show special only available at Theatre Royal Nelson) 
Book Now! 

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland 
19 Oct & 22 Oct 2016
$19.00 – $44.00
Book here

Theatre , Solo ,

1hr 45mins with interval

Affecting, thought-provoking, skilfully performed

Review by Leigh Sykes 20th Oct 2016

Having recently finished reading Ron Rosenbaum’s book The Shakespeare Wars, which contains some fascinating and detailed analysis of the difficulties and joys of Shylock and The Merchant of Venice, I feel quite well-informed as I sit waiting for the show to begin.

The set is simple: a table, chair, large trunk but also five drops of fabric at the back of the stage adorned with many variants of the word ‘Jew’: ‘Juda’, ‘Juif’, the list goes on, encompassing a huge number of different languages. The very presence of those words resonates with a realisation that our opinions of the character of Shylock have been irrevocably changed by the events of the Second World War and so our responses to him and Shakespeare’s play are unlikely to be straightforward.

The play begins with a deep, ominous sound that vibrates the theatre, and suddenly Guy Masterson is there on stage, launching immediately into one of Shylock’s speeches. From here the play takes the clever path of making the only other Jewish character in Shakespeare’s work take on the role of narrator: Tubal, the ‘wealthy Hebrew’ of Shylock’s tribe, who cheerfully admits to only having eight lines, but who assures us that his role is crucial.

And indeed this turns out to be true as Masterson as Tubal takes us on a rich, sometimes uncomfortable, often poignant and always skilful journey through the intertwining histories of Jewish persecution, Shakespearean characters and the actors who have performed them.

We are reminded that originally Shylock was played as a caricature, a villain with few (if any) redeeming features, but the play also gives us a fascinating history woven into the evolution of the character, and it is here that I feel that Masterson is at his most affecting. Telling the story of the 1190 massacre of Jews in York, a terrible parallel is raised between this atrocity and the events in The Merchant of Venice, in a way that I had not appreciated before.

The horror of the situation is brought fully to life with some simple lighting and Masterson’s understated yet powerful responses. He is similarly skilful at a later point in the play when he allows his silence and the facts he has presented us with to provoke a deep sadness at the repeated ill-treatment of our fellow humans.

Aside from the astute observations on the way Jews have been perceived and treated through history, the play is also a wonderful opportunity to experience the power of a skilled and engaging solo performer in tune with his work. Masterson’s ability to switch between characters using a hat, a coat, a voice, or a look means that the action moves forward briskly and seamlessly. While there is the odd stumble over a word here and there, this never interrupts the flow of the performance and Masterson’s facility with the language and his sure grasp of the ever-expanding range of characters means that we are able to follow and enjoy the action clearly.

We are taken chronologically through Shakespeare’s play, experiencing Tubal’s crucial scene with its eight extremely important lines in its entirety, at the same time as pondering Shakespeare’s leading actors and those who followed them in a variety of major and minor roles (such as Tubal). Masterson is funny and poignant, physical and quiet and through it all we are given a performance that places Shylock in the position created for him by history, by other characters and by our responses to him.

I find the behaviour of the other characters in the climactic trial scene suddenly much more vicious than I remember, with Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity a stark reminder that things had changed very little for him and his people since 1190. 

The final scene of the show, aided by some lovely sleight of hand by Masterson, makes us confront the consequences of anti-Semitism and the fact that it is seemingly impossible to remove our knowledge of Hitler’s final solution from a consideration of this character and this play. That’s not to say that this leaves us in despair; rather it makes me realise how rich and varied the conversation is that has been provoked over the last 400+ years, and how very fortunate we are to have such a skilled and passionate team of playwright and director (Gareth Armstrong) and actor as we have here.

This is an affecting, thought-provoking show, skilfully performed, and I enjoy it immensely.


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Impressive skill, intelligence, humour and sentiment

Review by Janet Whittington 13th Oct 2016

A clue as to the time frames covered is in this empty stage glaring at us as we wait for the one-man show of the masterful Guy Masterson and his 16th century character. Nazi-like, five white full length narrow banners drop against a black stage curtain painted erratically and accusingly in red and black with all the world’s languages for Jew. That’s not Shakespeare.

But it is Gareth Armstrong’s play: Shylock.

Yes, go. No, you don’t have to like Shakespeare. No, you don’t need to read the play first, or understand it. No, it’s not depressing, even though it’s intermittently poignant and political.

You will feel the love of Santa Claus as cuddly Guy Masterson walks on stage and beams at you. Cradling us all in that winning smile, punctuating with irony and jokes, he talks us through what the original Shakespeare’s Shylock is about. Poking fun at the Bard, actors, audiences and himself, he briefs us on the role of Shylock’s sidekick, Tubal.

Assuming the role of both the character and all the actors who played Tubal, Masterton wryly encourages us to feel the agony and the power of performing centre stage, and the impotence of our own lives as less central characters. Masterton eats you up more readily than the kid in the seat in front of me eating her packet of jet planes.

Continuing to run the themes of Shakespeare and acting, Masterson introduces more themes around 5,000 years of Jewish racial discrimination, the other hit book – The Bible – as well as lesser human emotions of revenge and bitterness still prevalent in the 20th century.

Only a true master can keep an audience with him through the fascinating tour that follows. With only the addition of hat or removing of a coat and the odd wink from Masterson, I am following the dozen or more parts he is playing.

I am so impressed with the skill, intelligence, humour and sentiment of this play. Masterson and Armstrong are masters of comic timing, parody and satire. Masterson’s heartfelt love for all the flawed aspects of humanity make this a warm and memorable evening. A great start to the Nelson Arts Festival. It’s a pity for Nelsonians if you haven’t already bought a ticket to his next show. It is sold out.

Masterson is a master-craftsman of a one-man show. Highly recommended.


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Triumphant conclusion to a truly enriching Festival

Review by Terry MacTavish 11th Oct 2016

Shylock is one of the most fascinating characters in Shakespeare’s canon, and one that many great actors aspire to play.  “There’s something about the man that grabbed me by the throat and invaded my heart,” as Patrick Stewart puts it. Yet early stage interpretations made of him a one-dimensional villain: the original ruthless Jewish moneylender, with ginger wig and hooked nose.

Playwright and original performer Gareth Armstrong tells Shylock’s story while exploring the history of both Jewish persecution and changing acting styles, in what is modestly termed ‘a glorified lecture’.  Actually it makes for an exciting and complete theatre experience. The format is similar to that used by Miriam Margolyes in Dickens’ Women (which I reviewed in 2012), simultaneously educational and entertaining.

Naturally it demands skill and versatility, but Armstrong has passed his mantle to the right actor. Guy Masterson is superb in the role of actor/lecturer.  Shylock has become one of the most globally successful solo shows of the last two decades.

Shunning the obvious choice of Shylock himself as narrator, the playwright has shrewdly opted for the slightly resentful actor who is given the bit-part of Shylock’s sidekick, Tubal: “Only one scene! Only eight speeches!” Tubal as a concerned onlooker can contextualise Shylock’s situation, and also toss out some hilarious asides regarding the problems of a second-rate actor.  (As if a second-rate actor could give us Tubal’s breathless dash back from Genoa as brilliantly as Masterson does: no such thing as a small part!)

Although it is as Tubal he delivers his commentary, with wonderfully expressive gestures and plenty of sly humour, Masterson does perform a definitive Shylock as well, by the simple expedient of an added hat.

Amazingly, by first reading the story ‘pinched’ by Shakespeare from a 14th century folktale, then enacting all of Shylock’s key scenes, Masterson succeeds in giving us the essence of The Merchant of Venice. The pace is swift but intelligible, and the very appreciative audience is in a constant ripple of laughter. He makes a splendidly convincing Shylock, bringing out the humour and pathos of the man while retaining his strength.

I especially enjoy the way he develops the tiny scene with Tubal to demonstrate vividly Shylock’s anguish at his daughter’s desertion, and her callous disposal of the ring his wife gave him, in exchange for a monkey. Masterson has set this up well with some wry reflections earlier on the difficulties for solo fathers of ethnic minorities bringing up headstrong daughters. 

It is possible the whole audience is anticipating one particular speech, however.  I’ve never understood how Shakespeare could be castigated as anti-Semitic when he puts into Shylock’s mouth one of the most powerful statements against prejudice ever made.  “He hath disgraced me … scorned my nation … and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew hands? … affections, passions? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” It is all there, the common humanity that must never be denied.

After Masterson’s stirring rendition, we feel nothing but horrified sympathy as the Christian court delivers its ‘justice’.

Through the retelling of The Merchant of Venice, we also learn the terrible history of the Jewish people, from Pontius Pilate (with lovely Roman accent!) washing his hands as the Jewish crowd call for the Crucifixion, through harassment and oppression to the mass murder of Jews as recently as 1945 because of the Blood Libel, that mad but widely-held belief that Jews used the blood of children in their rituals.

The focus though, is on the way the English of Shakespeare’s day regarded Jews, and the way they were portrayed onstage, which gives Masterson the opportunity for a fabulous imitation of Shylock played as comic villain, ginger wig and all.

These anecdotes of great actors of the past – from Richard Burbage who created all Shakespeare’s heroes, to Edmund Kean who determined to play Shylock as more than a caricature – are both amusing and illuminating. In one funny but for me very touching scene, Masterson recreates aging actor Charles Macklin’s final crumbling stage appearance. As well as being a vindication of Shylock’s desire for vengeance, given the history of his people, this play is an affectionate tribute to the acting profession, its insight and courage as well as its vanity and absurdity.  

Possibly seen as ‘caviar to the general’, Shylock has the attraction of a master class for many local performers. “It was brilliant, though I am a little hard of hearing these days,” says Bernard Esquilant, the 1960s Director of the Southern Comedy Players, adding he has just performed Brush Up Your Shakespeare in his Retirement Village. A hardy breed, these thespians. 

The Fortune Theatre has provided solid technical support, Masterson simply giving the crew instructions, and the occasional wink, when he wants some variation in the lighting and sound effects, like the subtle enhancement of chanting for church or synagogue, while set and costume are simple and functional. Fine acting needs no more.

So the Arts Festival of Dunedin 2016 draws to its end. As patron Helen Clark says, “A nation can be rich in every material sense, but it is impoverished if fails to provide for and nourish artistic expression.” Shylock is a triumphant conclusion to what has been a truly enriching Festival. 


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The only Jews in Shakespeare speak

Review by Helen Watson White 11th Oct 2016

The Shylock of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, famous in stage history, is only one among 19 named characters, appearing in only five scenes.

Listed simply as “a Jew”, he is, however, anything but simple: sometimes jocular, at other times savage and ruthless; miserly and domineering with a daughter whom he’s supposed to love; good at commerce, debating, usury – making money out of lending money – yet doggedly suspicious of his enemies, even when doing business with them.

He has, in fact, few trusted colleagues. [More]


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