Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Othello, National Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

A short review I wrote for our local rag ... 


It sometimes seems that each new production of a Shakespeare play demands some singularity, if only to distinguish it from all the others.  With the RSC’s current, modern-dress version of ‘Othello’, directed by Iqbal Khan, it is that our eponymous hero (played by Hugh Quarshie) and his nemesis, Iago (a superb Lucian Msamati), are the same race, yet this shift in perspective is no gimmick.  At a stroke, the racism inherent in the plot becomes more subtle, and complex reasons for Iago’s villainy suggest themselves. For instance, when Iago repeatedly refers to his commanding officer as ‘the Moor’, it is with a degree of sarcasm that leaves the audience in no doubt as to the level of bitterness he feels at having been overlooked for promotion in favour of the spuriously liberal Cassio. Othello is permitted to own his identity, whilst Iago must dance attendance.


Along with Iago as evil-for-the-sake-of-it psychopath, the stereotype of Othello as 'noble Moor' is also jettisoned when we see him sanction waterboarding by his troops and, as his madness deepens, come close to asphyxiating Iago in order to obtain details of Desdemona's presumed infidelity. 

It is the character of Emilia, Iago’s wife, who touches me most, being unwittingly complicit in the fate of her mistress, and in this production she is played with passion and intensity by Ayesha Dharker.  Also outstanding is Ciaran Bagnall’s set, comprising arches and arcades and a pool of water which sees service as a Venetian canal, an instrument of torture, and a bathing pool.  As the jealousy of both Othello and Iago grows, so the mist over the water billows and thickens and the shadows lengthen.  This is an electrifying production that more than makes up for the disappointing Merchant of Venice running concurrently.  


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