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Review: OTHELLO at Star Theatres

Review: OTHELLO at Star Theatres

The Moor of Venice

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 6th August 2022.

One thing that we can be sure of is that the works of Shakespeare will always be a part of the theatre scene because audiences never tire of seeing them. Independent Theatre is presenting The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, to give the five-act play its full title, with Shedrick Yarkpai revisiting the role that he played for the company in 2011. He has the distinction of being the first African-born actor to play the role in Australia.

COVID continues to cause problems and, this time, it disrupted rehearsals with one after another of those involved being forced to isolate for a week, it necessitated a late change of actor for the role of Iago, and it also delayed opening night by one day. A lot of the rehearsal was, of necessity, done using Zoom. Enormous determination by everybody involved ensured that the production made it to the stage.

The production was directed by Rob Croser, the company's Artistic Director, who also had the vision for the impressive set, brought to realisation by co-founder, David Roach, with Chris Gilbert and Rene Beerens. There is good use of various levels, and a central block that becomes Desdemona's deathbed. An arched cloister runs across the rear and down onto the sides, looking extremely solid. The company is renowned for its excellent sets. As always, Croser brought his vast knowledge and experience to bear on the performance, his eye for detail finding every nuance in the script.

Beginning in Venice, around the time of the Ottoman Venetian war for the possession of Cyprus (1570-73), Othello is an African who, through his military skill, has risen to the rank of general in the army. He secretly marries Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio, a senator with whom he has become friends. The action then moves to Cyprus, where Othello is tasked with repelling the Ottoman Turk invasion.

Roderigo is in love with Desdemona, though rejected by her and her father, and complains to his friend, Iago, that he had not told him of the marriage. Iago, a lower-ranking officer, is jealous of Othello's military and personal successes, is angered that Cassio was promoted to the position that he had expected, and devises schemes to destroy him by convincing him that Desdemona is unfaithful. Desdemona travels to join her husband in the company of Lieutenant Cassio and Emilia, Iago's wife, to join her husband in Cyprus. Iago sees an opportunity to convince Othello that she and Cassio are having an affair. All ends in tragedy, of course.

Shedrick Yarkpai brings a greater depth and understanding to the role of Othello than his previous performance a decade ago, having gained both theatrical and life experience. He gave a fine performance then; he gives an even better one now. He is a commanding presence, and superbly negotiates the wide range of emotional ups and downs.

Desdemona is played by Eloise Quinn-Valentine who generates a convincing display of love and devotion to Othello. She conveys Desdemona's dismay and confusion at Othello's accusations, moving the audience with her portrayal of distress.

Arran Beattie plays the devious, Iago, which is actually the largest role in the play, the character is seldom offstage. Joining the cast four weeks ago, and having to put up with Zoom rehearsals, he performed script in hand. That did not, however, diminish his ability to create a fully developed and believable character.

Lyn Wilson once again plays Emilia, Iago's wife, and Desdemona's friend and servant. She conveys well the conflict Emilia suffers between her loyalty and duty to her husband and her affection for Desdemona, culminating in a display of strength when she condemns Iago.

Cassio is played by Eddie Sims, presenting an upright, strong supporter of Othello, if a little naïve, unaware that he is being manipulated by Iago. Cory Fergusson plays Bianca, Cassio's obsessive mistress, pushing him to marry her. Fergusson gives a lively and energetic performance.

Roderigo, played by Jordan Rose, is conned out of his entire fortune by Iago, who insists that he is using the money to establish pathways for Roderigo to win over Desdemona, whilst using Roderigo as just another pawn in his game. Rose displays all of the anger, disappointment, and frustration required in the role.

David Roach creates two distinct characterisations, as Senator Brabantio, Desdemona's father, and Montano, Governor of Cyprus, showing again his enormous versatility, and ability to make much of even a brief appearance.

Greg Janzow brings dignity to the roles of Gratiano, Brabantio's brother, and again to the Duke of Venice, and Henry Bleby Williams is imposing as Desdemona's cousin, Lodovico.

Photography, Jacqui Munn.

From This Author - Barry Lenny

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