Writer and Director: Ian Dixon Potter
The havoc individuals can wreak with very little cause is the subject of Ian Dixon Potter’s latest monologue in the Tales from a Golden Age series as the writer tackles an adaption of Othello. Relocating to the modern day and incorporating references to Black Lives Matters, Covid and smartphones, the retitled Iago builds on Dixon Potter’s earlier themes of narrowness and racism hiding beneath society’s surface.
Overlooked for promotion and discovering who has been appointed in his place, Iago complains that positive discrimination and quotas are the reason for Othello’s preferment and decides to undermine Othello’s position. Soon discovering a secret liaison between the new leader and the fair Desdemona, Iago sets out to poison Othello against her with a campaign of lies designed to inflame his jealousy.
Othello has always been Iago’s play so Dixon Potter’s decision to let the villain tell the story aligns with the intentions of Shakespeare’s original story while creating an even greater sense of other characters as puppets for Iago’s schemes. And while some Iagos have a charismatic evil, Dixon Potter draws on his earlier Brexit-themed pieces in this sequence to create a central figure whose petty small-mindedness is entirely repulsive.
Structured across 10 scenes and running at 40-minutes, Iago compresses a rather meaty seventeenth-century play into a series of one-sided impressions which spends far longer building Iago’s hatred of his superior than explaining the jealousy plot, making the final scenes over-hurried. And while the audience receives direct updates from Iago as events unfold, Dixon Potter wavers a little in managing what Iago is supposed to know at certain points in the story. So, in scene nine when Othello has just rushed off to confront his beloved, Iago says “I feared for her life” rather than “I fear for her life” as though he already knows the outcome, but then conveys this as new knowledge in the final scene.
Another writing tic is a merging of differently constructed sentences and phrases, some drawing on Shakespeare’s expressive style such as ‘fair countenance’ interspersed with inconsistent colloquial and contemporary wording that sometimes confuses the style, although the distillation of this vast story into a single point of view and how Dixon Potter uses that to shape the hate-filled or mocking language Iago uses to describe Othello is generally done well.
Having made such an impression in Trivial Dispute, Neil Summerville returns as a man with a similar axe to grind and Summerville relishes the success of Iago’s plan and his building contempt for Othello. It becomes clear that his enmity may be framed in racial terms but in describing Othello’s “raw physicality and powerful visceral presence,” it is jealousy that drives him. Summerville gives Iago no empathy and instead there is a grubbiness that enjoys destruction for its own sake.
Dixon Potter’s final choice slightly removes from Shakespeare’s ending to create a lack of remorse, so its is harder to fathom where the impetus would come from within Iago to make this confession to us. Pride in his success perhaps, but, psychologically, in a scenario where men are not free to speak their minds and must operate covertly as Iago does here, that doesn’t quite ring true. Iago is still an enduringly fascinating character and this attempt to recast his motives with a modern agenda is an interesting and consistent addition to the Tales from the Golden Age series.