Othello

Creation Theatre: Shakespeare’s tale of jealousy and ambition.
New Road Baptist Church, Fri April 17th - Sat May 30th 2009

April 21, 2009
The legendary story telling powers of Creation Theatre Company are such that 3 hours of Othello (including an interval) passes by in a flicker. Set around World War 2, this seductive yet sexually suppressed era works well to frame the premise of a young Desdemona marrying a strong foreign soldier against the ideologies of her Senator father. Energy is given to battle scenes by Aidan Treays’ pageant designs and the cast moves well as an ensemble to boldly bleak music. The period vocal duets between Desdemona and her maid Emilia are smoking. The New Road Baptist Church has the snug fit of underground war rooms. The ever present modern crucifix illuminates just how far off the path of good the characters are marching on Nancy Surman’s functionally spartan stage design. Audience members look directly down or squarely on at the action and quite rightly are forced into the mode of judgement as Iago unleashes destructive jealousy. The key scene to the play where Iago is adjusting the uniform of Othello, his superior officer, is effortlessly tucked into the subconscious as Iago transforms Othello from a doting lover to a doubting husband. The resulting violent scenes are all too vivid and brutally executed to bring about a satisfying and climactic ending.

Charlotte Conquest directs this play with vitality offering new ideas to engage Othello experts and an entertaining show for newcomers to the text. Othello plays the General of war in a dominant, dogmatic style, which works as a good base for his darker side to be later translated into violence. This uncompromising man sees people as friend or foe. Desdemona convinces the audience throughout of her love for Othello, disturbingly so in her final scenes where she instructs her bed to made with sheets she would have as a shroud. Iago offers an intoxicating mix of delivery styles including mildly camp, slightly sinister and mentally twisted as he treads the fine line between cracked genius and amiable lunatic. In Iago’s deceptively light delivery his personal inadequacies have an almost sexual intensity as his jealousy of Othello becomes increasingly outrageous. Ashley Bale’s lighting design makes no mistake where the root of evil is lurking. Ethereal ice-cold blue shades the face of Iago as he reveals the depth of his jealousy to the audience. The passage of time flows easily through the plot thanks to Shakespeare’s nod to nature, where an instant golden glow to the stage and birdsong evokes morning. Jacky Sadones and the front of house team extend the warmest of welcomes for this chilling production.
Whilst Power may not have always been clear in his speech, his emotion was completely clear throughout the performance. Shakespeare's language is important, but without any emotion the lines are merely words. The choreography was brilliant, the scene changes fluid and seamless. Desdemona and Othello's relationship was touching and realistic, making the ending completely crushing.

The reasons for using the Church as the venue are clearly explained in the programme. Creation always use interesting venues, which helps their work to remain fresh and interesting. The lighting and sound effects were fab mostly, although I was unsure about the water noises at the beginning - they were not quite loud enough to be clear, and distracted my attention slightly.

The death scene was perfect, not overacted at all as I have seen many times before! I would recommend going to see the play, all characters carry their weight. Emilia, in particular, is fantastic!
Shakespeare’s tragedies (of which Othello is one) usually have the most unexpected starts and the most predictable endings. But the funny part was that it didn’t start with a very powerful, nor moving monologue. That factor actually made the play something to dig your ears into since it didn’t start in the usual way. To be frank, I wasn’t that impressed in the way the cast projected the scenes the way Shakespeare wanted his followers to view the story, particularly to the new comers.

Though some of the members of the cast didn’t deliver their lines well at times, the other members were able to find ways to cover up their mistakes. So far, the acting was fairly good despite some unclear lines spoken at times. An example is Othello, played by Victor Power. At times, he would swallow his words, forcing the audience to listen more attentively. The shouts didn’t help much, but there are times when we would understand it. As an inexperienced theatre-goer our standard for Othello was set fairly. It was a good play, nevertheless.
Creation Theatre’s production of William Shakespeare’s Othello, set in the old Baptist Church in Bonn Square, kicked off with a graceful choreographed introduction, which caught everyone’s attention, as most Shakespeare plays start off with a character’s straightforward speech.

Most of the cast members did a superb job in getting into their respective roles; Victor Power, who played the role of Othello, was one of the few members who didn’t. He lacked the ability to speak in an easily intelligible voice, and sometimes, he tended to swallow his words because of his accent. He did show enough emotion, especially in the handkerchief scene. However, his relationship with Desdemona, played by Ffion Jolly, was not believable; they lacked chemistry and they failed to interpret their roles as husband and wife.

Richard Kidd, who played Iago, was our favourite. He truly embodied the role of the scheming ensign and delivered his monologues perfectly while conversing with the audience. Rhys King (Roderigo) did a great job, despite his quite minimal role. His voice was probably the most powerful and most understandable amongst all of the characters.

Overall, we recommend Creation Theatre’s Othello to experienced Shakespeare linguists and to ordinary theatre-goers as well, as the theatre retains Shakespeare’s original script.
Watching Othello by the Creation Theatre was fine but nothing that special. The actors were relatively good; however it was hard to understand what some of them were saying, particularly Othello. Although we must say that Richard Kidd was absolutely fantastic playing the role of Iago. He had great facial expressions and he was able to save the scenes that were otherwise quite boring.

We felt like we were actually part of play because the lighting and the sound effects made the play feel like it was real. The actors literally used the whole theatre which made the play exciting.

If they had just been given a bigger theatre with more comfortable seats, better lighting and stage sets, it would have been much better.
There is always this big habit of big expectations when it comes to Shakespeare's plays, and yesterday we were expecting something bigger when we went to see Othello at the New Road Baptist Church. This is because when we arrived in the theatre, the first thing we noticed was the seats were quite small and very uncomfortable especially when you had to lean forward to see the stage. 

Some of us thought that the actor did not really fit the complete character of Othello since he lacked the power and charisma that we thought Othello should have. Another thing I could add is that the theatre was very humid and there was no effort of even ventilating the so called theatre. But on the other hand, the acting and the sound effects of the play were very good. Also, the timing of the actors was perfect since all the actions and sound effects were in sync. Lastly, the voice projection of most of the characters was rather excellent except for some who ate their words.

To summarize this all up, Othello at the New Road Baptist Church was good except for some simple flaws like space, ventilation, character portrayal, and last but not least, for some actors, voice projection and pronunciation.
When we first entered the Baptist Church, our expectations weren't really that high because the environment convinced us otherwise. It was not the most comfortable place in the world but we managed to cope with it.

The introduction gave us a little idea of what the play was about. It stirred up a little interest in us but our uncomfortable seats were battling with that idea. The beginning was good but as the play went on it got a little tiring. Some of the actors acted like they were really in the 1930's but others were talking as if we were listening from a 1930's Telivision because they were swallowing their words.

The play was so long that it looked like they were dragging the story already. The music was fantastic and very realistic especially when Roderigo died. The lights were effective enough to emphasize the emotions of the characters and lastly, it was overall exquisite and worth paying for.
From the second the play starts, it captures your full attention. By the time it ends, on the other hand, you will have fallen asleep at least once. Unfortunately, even if you don't have back problems, the venue isn't very conducive to sleeping--or comfort for that matter as the seats are thinly padded and the theatre is a tad warm.

Don't worry about not knowing anything about Shakespearean plays; this will not be a problem as a great deal of their words will be unintelligible, be it because of the actor's accent or volume, which seemed to be arbitrarily controlled by a drunk.

The acting was a bit mediocre, with the exceptions of Iago and Roderigo; their roles were believable. As this is not a musical, we will not bother with criticizing their lack of rhythm. Although we will criticize their use of a dance to start the play. It was a nice touch, but a superfluous one.

The production company's resourcefulness is not lost on us though, as we appreciate their use of their limited space and their interaction with the audience. Their creativity and fluidity when using props on a limited budget and changing them was admirable.

Taking up three solid hours, it was an effective timekiller, but it was not worth the price we paid--and we got a student discount!
Shakespearean writing has always been fascinating to read. Seeing the lines materialize on stage was definitely something new. To be frank, I thought that the Creation Theatre company did not do Shakespeare justice. Their recent play, Othello, did not meet my expectations. Even though the company made the most of its miniscule location, the place was still not conducive to the dramatic production and was cramped. The company was able to make do with what they had in terms of lights and effects especially during the scene of Roderigo’s murder.

The props were scarce yet effectively used. I liked the way the actors changed the props in character through dancing and pantomimes. On the other hand, there were a few actors who did do their characters justice, such as Iago (Richard Kidd) and Roderigo (Ryhs King). They were able to carry their roles well to the point that I really thought that they were the characters themselves. But, the rest were not as good. At times, I couldn’t understand what they were saying. They were eating their words a lot. It’s a pity considering that the words of Shakespeare were not properly articulated.

All in all, the play was quite good but there is considerable scope for improvement. Maybe they should consider brushing up on their articulation and expression.
If I hadn't known the play well myself I wouldn't have been at all sure what was going on. I understood why Othello shouted at times but one would have had to guess at what he was actually saying. Similarly, I had to strain to hear what the women were saying. The nazi uniforms heightened the problem.
I fear a newcomer to Shakespeare would have been very confused.
Creation Theatre, now entering its teens, has had a rough time of it with the squally, horrid summers that Oxford has suffered over the last two years. Thus, its venues for 2009 all include seating areas of one kind or another shielded from the elements, and the season begins in the proud old Baptist church in the newly spruced-up Bonn Square. Nothing could be more expressive of an evolving, vital, Oxford that is so proud of its history, but also aware of a need to adapt and change in order to survive and stay relevant.

The venue as arranged for the production is reminiscent of Stratford’s under-dustsheets Swan: a thrust-stage is surrounded by seats, but those that are to be prized lie at the front of an upper gallery. One can’t forget the building is a church, with a huge cross above the stage, splintered at the edges, bedecked with a crumpled, intricate crown-of-thorns. As a non-dedicated venue, somewhere more suitable for Shakespeare could not be imagined, barring perhaps the Banqueting House at Whitehall where Othello premiered in front of James I in 1604.

One is always struck when a Shakespeare production does not begin with strident speech. Both parts of Creation’s Othello, by contrast, kick-off with balletic moments of physical theatre, which recurr at times to move the action of the play along. These take the edge, somewhat, off the play’s exploration of human motivations and passions, by adding a narrative bookending that screams ‘this is theatre’ in a way that may suit many plays in the Shakespeare canon in many playhouses, but is perhaps not quite so fitting for Othello in an eighteenth-century church. This over- theatricality is somewhat added to by the production: a play whose core setting is the heart of a Southern European polity is dressed up in the clothes and gestures of twentieth-century fascism. Is Iago meant to be Mussolini and Othello Abyssinia, or is it just a convenient, and all too fitting, mise en scène?

Rhys King as Roderigo is a little overemphatic with the lines that spark off the play, especially coming, as they do, after the danced introduction. He soon recovers, however, and he and the rest of the (improbably beautiful) company mostly do very well with the verse, and the often complicated blocking. Iago and Emilia are played by Richard Kidd and Caroline Devlin as stolid Yorkshire, in contrast to the exotic, occasionally too frantic, Othello of Victor Power, and the Desdemona-as-debutante ably brought off by Ffion Jolly. The intensity of these regional accents comes and goes, but it is easy to believe that this can be explained by Iago, early on, presenting himself as a simple, salt-of-the-earth, soldier, and Emilia, when she comes to be the final judge and arbiter of the whole tragic, bloody, fate of the ensemble, speaking a truth that is otherwise absent from all but the most conniving of the play’s other discourses. Even in Venetian Cyprus there is something reassuringly authentic and all-pervading about a northern accent.
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