Death threats against Jewish actress see theatre security ramped up

Entertainment

Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman is used to her work speaking for itself.

She’s known to many for her roles on Doctor Who, Eastenders and as “Auntie Val” in the Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner.

But at a time when she’s arguably hitting her creative stride, winning critical acclaim in the West End, the actress has also had to deal with death threats – a response to her challenging antisemitism she sees online.

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Oberman has won critical acclaim for her West End role

Pic: Marc Brenner
Image:
Pic: Marc Brenner

She said: “My identity has never felt a huge part of my creative life, but in recent years, particularly in the arts world, which likes to see itself as progressive and inclusive, I think I’ve ended up becoming a spokesperson for many Jewish people and allies in the arts who have often felt like a lone voice, who have felt intimidated and often felt frightened to talk about their identity. And I don’t think that is right.”

Sky News caught up with Oberman during rehearsals of a new musical based on a BBC radio play she wrote: Bette And Joan And Baby Jane.

It is an imagining of the backstage bitterness between Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the 1960s during the making of the film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?

Pic: Marc Brenner
Image:
Pic: Marc Brenner

She said: “I wanted to write something about women getting to 50 and losing their power in the entertainment industry.

“I don’t think we should hurtle towards our forties thinking ‘Oh, you know, where do we stand in the creative industry and in the world?’

“I think we’re coming into a duchess era, I think it’s possible to do anything and I’d like to think I’m giving hope to people for that.”

At this stage in her career, she’s certainly impressing theatre critics with her role in the West End reinvention of Shakespeare’s The Merchant Of Venice.

Obermann speaks to Sky's Katie Spencer
Image:
Obermann speaks to Sky’s Katie Spencer

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Starring as a female Shylock, based, she says, on her own grandmother, the play has been re-set in 1930s London as fascism sweeps across Europe.

In the traditional version, Shylock is a Venetian Jewish moneylender and the play’s principal villain.

“By putting a female shylock at the centre of that it ties in misogyny and racism against all minorities,” she explained.

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The actress attends rehearsals of a new musical based on a BBC radio play she wrote

But while she’s enjoying a creatively fruitful moment in her career, there’s also the threat to her life.

In response, security at the Criterion Theatre has been ramped up.

Oberman said: “You know, we’re living in very febrile times… I don’t understand how we’re living in a time where a Jewish actress who is putting on a production of The Merchant Of Venice is needing to have all this security, it just feels extraordinary.”

Amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, cases of both Islamophobia and antisemitism have spiked.

Oberman thinks her industry hasn’t done enough to challenge it.

She said: “The industry should take note because if it was happening to other minorities, I’d like to think that people would be horrified.”

Bette And Joan And Baby Jane: The Musical is being staged at JW3 on 4 March, with performances at 4pm and 7.30pm.

The Merchant Of Venice 1936 continues its West End run at the Criterion Theatre, London, until 23 March.

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