BMH Productions return to Oxford Castle for another super-speedy Shakespeare double bill. This time they’re taking on Othello, one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies, and in contrast, Much Ado about Nothing is one of the brightest comedies, but both take place at conflict’s end, as the soldiers are returning from war.
BMH open up this dramatic space to explore the complexities of life after wartime, as the damage and darkness of war falls into the welcoming arms of the domestic sphere; or slices it apart, like a knife. Othello is an early stop on the slow march home, to party away the terror, chaos and madness. But there are cracks in the darkness. Feared warlord Othello has been made safe through his marriage to the old Colonel’s daughter, Desdemona (Catherine Woolley, wild-eyed and heartbreaking). The terrifying Iago (Max Windich, cold-eyed and subtle) is being sidelined in favour of good-natured Cassio. But Othello is the story of those who do not return from the war. Marlon Williams plays the marked man, vibrating with tension, adrift in peace as he was at home in war. When it comes, the violence is sudden, awful, convincing. As Emilia, Iago’s wife, Ellen Publicover packs an extraordinary amount into a role that is often little more than an afterthought - this is not a show that wastes its smaller roles.
After the interval, Antoinette Drakes glides with effortless glamour from flak-jacketed Bianca to heiress Hero; Eloise Sheffield tosses off her army fatigues to become co-conspirator Margaret, ensnaring her social betters in cupid’s traps; and Max Windich re-emerges as Claudio, rubbed so raw by war he has forgotten to think before he acts. Ed Blagrove and Cate Nunn are so absolutely well matched as Benedict and Beatrice that each argument draws snorts and eye-rolls from their friends, but their wit and toughness shows them as the couple most likely to survive peacetime - if they ever stop fighting.