DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Othello – Northern Stage, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Richard Twyman

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

Othello is a plethora of impassioned emotions; hatred, fear, discrimination, jealousy, manipulation and prejudice, all the ingredients of a great night at the theatre?

A Muslim General in a Christian country, Othello (Victor Oshin) marries Senator Brabantio’s (Christopher Bianchi) daughter Desdemona (Kitty Archer) secretly, leading to major repercussions. Othello promotes a junior, Cassio (Philip Correia) to be his lieutenant over his friend the older Iago (Paul McEwan) causing more trouble. Iago, bent on revenge, creates a web of deceit engulfing all around. Roderigo (Brian Lonsdale) besotted by Desdemona, plies Iago with money thinking he is working on his behalf to secure her favours. Iago even involves his wife, Emilia (Kelly Price) in the treachery, and so the plot thickens.

The play opens with Othello and his wife praying on a mat, he then puts on a large crucifix in order to survive in a Christian country. The opening duologue between Iago and Roderigo lays the foundation of the subterfuge to follow. 

The stage is simply set (Georgia Lowe) with a large central raised area surrounded by vertical fluorescent stripes of light (Matthew Graham). While effective in enforcing the sense of isolation many characters feel, the initial subdued lighting, especially with many dark costumes, makes vision difficult and concentration is tested.

The young Oshin’s performance gathers momentum and while different to the seasoned general the script would suggest, shows much promise especially as this is his stage debut, straight from drama school. Varied accents give a modern sense, but some border on being unclear. Iago’s often indistinct delivery inhibits his articulation and the audience’s understanding of the text.

The stage does come to life everytime the women appear, their natural unaffected delivery bringing a dynamic modern feel to the action.  Price gives an excellent rounded performance, her scenes with Archer are a joy to watch and her final scene extremely touching. Archer breathing a contemporary confidence into Desdemona delivers the archaic text as if it were modern day speech; her unaffected movement imbues the part with a fresh innocence. The ‘Willow Song’ is performed not as a lament, but as tabletop dance and the wedding dance would undoubtedly win them a place in Strictly Come Dancing.

Lonsdale is also a joy to watch, indeed Iago’s  “…sick fool..”. His interpretation of the gullible, naïve, childlike Roderigo is a hypnotic delight; the slight northern accent adds colour to the character and does not hinder his coherent sharp delivery. He brings much humour and humanity to the stage whenever he appears.

But for a chance meeting with theatre agent, Julia Lintott, while working at Hamley’s one Christmas, Twyman may not be directing now.  This national tour is produced by The Award Winning English Touring Theatre in association with Oxford Playhouse and the Tabacco Factory, he has imbued this production with a very contemporary feel, introducing it to a new generation, especially with many of its themes being topical in today’s political climate.

Loduvico’s (John Sandeman) closing line “This heavy act with heavy heart relate” indeed sums up this iconic tragedy. Othello was written over 400 years ago and sadly some of its main themes are still active today; domestic violence, attitudes to women, being a Muslim in a Christian society. This production shows how racial intolerance and religious prejudice can tear life apart. That said however, it did unite the full house into a rousing response at the end.

Runs until Saturday 17th November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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