In one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, military hero and loving husband Othello falls prey to the whispers of jealousy and paranoia at the hands of villainous manipulator Iago, who is seeking revenge for his own bitter frustrations.
This piece of theatre is, in a word, stunning. Every element of the set and technical theatre is used to staggering effect – details of Natalie Pryce’s set are threaded throughout the story, and Alex Lewer’s lighting design partners perfectly with Ali Taie’s incredible sound to bring us in and out of thoughts, visions, and reality. However, it is director Sinéad Rushe’s vision for this piece that blows us away.
Rushe divide’s Iago’s character into 3, almost operating as Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego (though with more nuance), and has them interact with one another as well as other characters on stage. Not only does this enhance Iago’s power as a social puppeteer, but they also interestingly never once address the audience (as Iago’s soliloquies usually do), and instead Iago makes his plans and justifies his intentions without our complicity – such an interpretation allows us to view the character more objectively, take in the tragedy more completely, and yet somehow humanises Iago by showcasing his complexities. Though we lack some key moments of malevolent villainy that could serve to bring chills into the room, this is overall a brilliant vision and works to great effect.
Martins Imhangbe’s Othello is beautifully articulate, though the choice to keep such a stoic veneer even at the play’s climax becomes almost frustrating. Rose Riley presents a wonderfully modern Desdemona with more force and agency than is often given to this character, though it would be helpful to see a little more vulnerability at times to enhance the tragedy of her end.
As is often the case with this work of Shakespeare, it is the performance of Iago that makes this production so fantastic. Each taking on a particular aspect of Iago’s character, the trio of Michael C. Fox, Orlando James, and Jeremy Neumark Jones are a truly triumphant force. They work together as if they are one entity, executing thoughtfully choreographed movements and actions as specific as subtle looks to one another in response to what’s happening around them.
Fox is Iago’s cold, detached deceit, deliberately remaining static and measured in his performance; James is breathtaking as Iago’s heightened emotions, expertly driving the dynamics of his scenes – evoking sympathy for an ultimately irredeemable character – as well as providing brilliant moments of humour; and Jones brings a fabulous frenetic energy and darkness to the calculating drive and ambition of the piece’s villain.
It could probably be argued that some key features of this play are lost in favour of a focus on interesting physical and vocal ensemble work and exploring Iago’s character in this unique way: though Rachel-Leah Hosker gives a fun and endearing Emilia, we never see a powerful connection between her and Iago, making her initial willingness to steal for him without question confusing; Brabantio and Roderigo, though minor players in this story, lack any interesting characterisation; and emotional intensity seems missing throughout. Though this is still a brilliant production, the mind can’t help but wonder how much more powerful it would be if these elements were addressed!
Certainly worth seeing, Othello runs at Riverside Studios until Sunday 29th October.
Review: Penny Lane Photo: Mark Douet
Author: Penny Lane