Director: Richard Twyman
Company: English Touring Theatre
Reviewer: Ruth Jepson
Beware, my lord, of jealousy…
Othello. Just the name conjures up so many images in the minds of the audience. A savage heathen. A misunderstood sympathetic. A trusting fool turned violent by circumstance. Richard Twyman has chosen to direct his Othello as a secret Muslim, provoked to unleash the expected violence Islamaphobes will tell us all of that religion have lurking beneath the surface. Tapping into the current political and social unease just shows that Shakespeare’s play is still hauntingly relevant in 2018.
The story is well known to anyone who did GCSE or A-Level English in at least the last ten years. Othello (Victor Oshin) has controversially wed Desdemona (Kitty Archer) before being sent off to Cyprus to fight Turkish invaders, taking with him trusted Lieutenant Cassio (Philip Correia) and confidante Iago (Paul McEwan). Over the course of a few nights, Iago convinces Othello of an affair between his wife and his lieutenant, then sits back to watch Othello’s ensuing rage.
It is very hard to believe that Oshin is performing for the first time as a professional actor, so well does he portray the titular Othello. He shows the audience both the enigmatic, honourable soldier and the jealously crazed husband as if he had been acting the role for decades. His newlywed love with Desdemona is a cute joy, well establishing their relationship (helped in no little part by Archer speaking Shakespearean English so naturally that she outshines everyone else in the cast. Her post-dinner scene with Emilia (an equally as natural but more reserved Kelly Price) is the highlight of the performance). It is, therefore, a shame that the switch from lover to brute has to be so fast, as it would have been fascinating to watch a slow build of suspicion come between the two.
Unfortunately, McEwan’s Iago is not as well performed. Iago is meant to be silver-tongued and charismatic, his poisoned words the most important of his character traits. It is a shame then that no-one told McEwan to annunciate, especially in the early scenes where modern audience ears are still adjusting to archaic language. He does get clearer as the show goes on thankfully, but anyone not familiar with the plot may want to look up Iago’s reasons for his villainy before attending.
Othello is well staged, with a simple set and excellent use of flickering fluorescent lights to show Othello’s building fits, linking to interpretations of his being epileptic – although, ironically, the flickering may warrant a warning for any such audience members. The music swells and lowers to add atmosphere, but sometimes the levels need checking as Bianca (Hayat Kamille) is drowned out for the whole of her first speech. There is also a bizarre moment where hardened soldiers break out into perfectly choreographed dancing as if they were suddenly performing Magic Mike but at least it provokes a slightly bemused giggle, even if it is jarringly out of place.
While the production itself has its flaws, it is still very worth seeing should the opportunity present itself. The questions the play provokes are as important now as they were when Shakespeare wrote the play, and Twyman’s modern interpretation is both unsettling and enlightening as a result.
Runs until Saturday 29th September 2018 | Image: Contributed