BWW Reviews: OTHELLO, Riverside Studios, January 16 2014
Though not among Shakespeare's more gory tragedies (competition is pretty fierce after all), Othello is surely his most brutal, a slow motion car crash, in which love and trust go up against cynicism and venality - and lose. Badly.
Director Rebekah Fortune has set her production in the immediate post-war period, providing a Third Man-style noirish vibe to the doomed men and women. Eleanor Bull's superb costumes, allied to a world-weariness displayed by many characters who appear to have had just too much war, lend further authenticity - all that missing is a zither!
Does it all hang together? Mainly, it does. Stefan Adegbola speaks Othello's Philosopher-King poetry beautifully and one can believe completely in Gillian Saker's Desdemona's wooing by the Moor. Fergal Phillips, looking a bit like Captain Darling from Blackadder with his thin moustache and nervous mien, is also very good and there's a heartrending turn from Gemma Stroyan when Emilia realises the full extent of her husband's depravity.
Though the play is called Othello, it's really about Iago, the loathsome manipulator and betrayer. Peter Lloyd plays him as a chippy Northern NCO, who keeps his nose clean, bullies who he can when he can, and waits his moment to pounce. Though Iago is funny at times, it's never clear why so many think so much of him - his charisma needs to be a little more than that reflected from his boss Othello. The old question of why Iago did what he did - and in full knowledge of the likelihood of the fate that awaits him - never goes away, but he seems rather too transparent a villain for such clever people to be seduced into reposing so much trust in him. Maybe a touch of Harry Lime's famous half-smile would help.
It's Othello, though - my favourite Shakespeare - and it's lost none of its power to shine a light into some pretty dark recesses of humanity and find that the pit, if not the pity, is as deep as ever.
Photo Mike Barlow