Not too long ago, I saw a production of Othello in London that was very much influenced by the film noir genre. While this directorial decision certainly took nothing away from that fine production, it didn’t really add an awful lot either, in my view. It was therefore refreshing to see that director Geraldine Watson went for a ‘traditional’, gimmick-less approach for the version I saw last night, focussing primarily on character and dramatic language, although I must say that the set and costumes (colourful robes, gowns etc.), though not extravagant, were very impressive.
Othello exhibits Shakespeare at the height of his capabilities; it is a very impressive play in terms of the dramatist’s care in plotting, his use of intrigue and elaborate staging (such as eavesdropping schemes, adopted from his tragic predecessors, like Thomas Kyd), and the psychological penetration of his tragic eponymous figure.
Andreas Constantinou played the Moor and, as always, gave an excellent performance. His delivery was clear and never declamatory. Indeed, the whole cast did very well in that Shakespeare’s pentameter lines were delivered with the pace of conversational speech, and yet the audience seldom lost a word. Constantinou evinced great chemistry with Charlotte Rees, who did a lovely job as Desdemona, evoking considerable pity. The play’s conclusion, in which Othello, wrought with jealousy, having been manipulated by the villainous Iago (Dan Burrows), smothers his wife, was truly powerful and capped off a very entertaining couple of hours.
As for Iago himself, Dan Burrows did a fine job. The audience could see why other characters were so taken in by the lies of this smiling, damned villain. Indeed, when he wasn’t telling the audience about his evil schemes, he seemed exceedingly honest, spinning a viscous and vicious web for the likes of Cassio (Owain Miller) and Roderigo (Jack Muir). The temptation, of course, would be to play him as a pantomime villain, but Burrows’ interpretation was far more believable and added credibility to Othello’s downfall.
My only gripe was that some of us found the incremental repetition of words such as ‘lust’ and ‘betrayal’, played over Iago’s speeches, a wee bit distracting. It is important that as an audience we are absorbed by Iago’s soliloquies, and that, as in Richard III, we feel a connection with this scoundrel, which provokes our admiration (his duplicity would take in most of us, I dare say) and, paradoxically, our revulsion. While the repetition of these words, emitted from speakers, was very effective in scenes where we witnessed Othello’s disintegration, I do not feel that this effect was necessary during Iago’s speeches. Burrows did such a superb job, and is such a captivating actor, that we didn’t require any sound effects to realize how pernicious his character was.
Finally, Rebecca Price gave a stunning performance as Emilia. In most of the productions I have seen, Emilia is a feisty character who can elicit audience laughter. Conversely, Price played her as a psychologically abused wife who looks like she’s at the end of her tether. The moment that Emilia finally stands up to her husband, and reprimands him for his evil machinations, was all the more powerful as a result and showed just how wonderful some of Shakespeare’s female characters could be.
I have worked with Rogue’z Theatre Company for some of their early productions, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Homecoming. They are a fabulous company who always put together the loveliest and most professional casts and crews. I was gutted that I could not audition for this production, and was very much a green-eyed monster sitting there last night, taking a welcome break from correcting my PhD thesis (albeit much ado about Shakespeare). But it was an absolute pleasure to watch them pull off yet another exemplary production. I urge people to go and see a version of Shakespeare’s tragedy that does the Bard, and Welsh performing arts, proud.