Imaginative, gripping and punctuated with sharp humour, Richard Twyman’s Othello is fantastic. The actors are superb, delivering humour, darkness, love and more without the slightest trace of conceit.
The first half’s laugh-out-loud moments are unexpected for a tragedy, but perfectly deployed. They include an incredible nuptial party, the particulars of which definitely weren’t in Shakespeare’s text (no spoilers) and Brian Lonsdale’s Geordie Rodrigo, who plays the perfect fool, without becoming a clown.
Othello is in the end, however, a tragedy. Most poignantly and unusually shown in this production by Othello’s innocence and Desdemona’s knowing. Victor Oshin plays Othello as a young man in love, whipped up by lust, ecstasy and infatuation. With no battle or tactical scenes, he goes straight from puppy love to manipulated beast.
Othello remains the slave he was forced to become as a child. No matter his (seeming) conversion to Christianity or climbing of the military and political ranks, to those born to Venice he is a useful pawn. The final use of his oversized cross, the symbol of his enslavement, takes us back to that moment as a child when he was captured – a point he was never able to develop beyond.
Kitty Archer’s Desdemona, on the other hand – as well as Kelly Price’s distinctly modern Emilia – are prescient and wise. Their post-dinner scene in the second half, while full of singing and laughter on the surface, is filled with sadness. They know Desdemona’s fate is sealed. And while both women end up destroyed, they are made all the more powerful by their efforts to resist the selfishness and duplicity inherent in human nature.
And it is Paul McEwan’s outstanding Iago who makes sure we know these traits are in us all. McEwan’s witty and intimate style of soliloquy makes Iago more than a villain. He holds a mirror to human relationships and instincts. He doesn’t create malevolence, jealousy or oppression, but amplifies and intensifies what is already there.
Bring this together with Georgia Lowe’s minimal and supremely effective stage design and Matthew Graham’s precise and cerebral lighting, and this production delivers Othello as a precursor to Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror. Dystopian and exaggerated, but not so far from where we were. Or, indeed, where we are.
Yes it’s long. And yes, it’s wordy in a way that Shakespeare oft tends to be. But, if you accept that and relax into its rhythm, its unsettling reflection of humanity means you’ll be gripped, invigorated, and provoked.