Habima perform The Merchant of Venice at the Globe
Despite months of protest from groups supporting a cultural boycott of Israel, Israel’s national theatre company Habima performed The Merchant of Venice
in Hebrew at the Globe Theatre in London, to sold out crowds and standing ovations.
In the lead up to opening night, a group of high profile stage names called on the Globe to boycott the Israeli company. Outside the venue on the night, both anti and pro-Israel groups staged demonstrations.
The protests were particularly ironic given the play Habima chose: the Merchant
is notorious for the anti-semitic portrayal of its lead character.
Disruptions to the show were expected, particularly after the BBC Proms last year, where anti-Israel protestors interrupted the live broadcast of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra by singing about "Israeli apartheid" as the performance began. However with increased security measures, the Globe had hoped to keep these to a minimum.
In a letter sent out to all audience members, the Globe reserved the right "to refuse admission to anyone we have reason to believe may cause a disruption" and that "any objects or material which could be used in disrupting the performance will be deemed prohibited items". Airport-style security was implemented, and patrons were searched rigorously before entering the theatre with patrons asked to arrive 90 minutes early to allow for all audience members to be properly screened.
But some protestors slipped through the cracks and a 22 year-old man was arrested outside the Globe, on suspicion of assault, after a security guard was injured.
In an opening speech prior to curtain call, Dominic Dromgoole, the Globe’s artistic director urged the audience to ignore any outbursts from the demonstrators, and to allow security to handle any disruptions. "If there is anybody here to protest I’d just like to say to them, these are not politicians you are seeing on stage tonight, these are actors whose jobs it is a to tell a story," he said.
On both nights shouting protestors were physically removed from the show once they had made their presence known but the audience for the most part heeded Dromgoole’s pleas, and the actors’ managed to keep their composure.
"At the end it was amazing," said Habima artistic director Ilan Ronen. "It was just so moving and so exciting – the audience didn’t let the actors go. It was a big celebration of theatre; this is what won in the end and all the other aspects didn’t matter."