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BWW Review: OTHELLO, Shakespeare's Globe


The final Wonder Noir production to play in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is one of Shakespeare's most searing tragedies: Othello. Running in tandem with Webster's The White Devil, it concludes the winter season in suitably dark fashion, as befits Emma Rice's vision. This tale on the consequences of letting rumour guide your actions is highly apt in our scaremongering world.

Othello, the Moor, has helped Venice to a great military victory - he has also won the heart of Brabantio's daughter, Desdemona, and they have married in secret. Brabantio is reluctant, despite Othello's widely regarded character, but allows the union to continue. Before long Othello's battle prowess is called upon again; Desdemona is adamant that she should stay by her husband's side throughout his campaign, so the couple and the troops all decamp to Cyprus. Cassio has risen to lieutenant status which riles Iago, who also suspects that Othello has seduced his wife - this sets him on the path to revenge, hoping to convince Othello that Desdemona has committed adultery with the favoured Cassio. All he has to do is wake "the green-eyed monster" within his master...

At the heart of this play is inequality in society, shown through racism and sexism. These behaviours are still all too prevalent today, meaning the work has constant relevance - this is highlighTed Further in Ellen McDougall's production, with some anachronisms in text and costume in an otherwise quite traditional rendering of the play. Some of these updates work rather well, such as the drunken behaviour of Iago, Roderigo and Cassio (singing "Rule Britannia" and chanting almost like football fans), however others do jar a little. The choice of LAna del Rey's "Video Games" as a recurring song is interesting, but doesn't always fit - however it is sung beautifully and harmoniously.

Also, in this production, Cassio is female. As well as giving another prominent part in the play to a woman, it makes Iago's jealousy all the more potent: not only has he been rejected for promotion, it's a woman who has taken the prize.

Terrific use is made of The Playhouse's plentiful supply of candles, quite often keeping the light very dim and even plunging the theatre into complete darkness. It allows the audience to focus in on the important action in a scene, and resonates well with the dark nature of the play.

Kurt Egyiawan gives an assured performance in the title role, mastering both sides of Othello's character and bringing a great physicality to the fore. Joanna Horton shows Cassio to be a very competent woman, nonetheless still in a man's world. Rather than the downright evil you might expect, the brilliance in Sam Spruell's Iago is how much of a regular man he appears to be - even when he's celebrating how well his plans seem to be progressing. It's a reminder that anyone can behave in such a way if the conditions are right.

Othello can be a difficult prospect, given that women are portrayed as victims and the Moor, who could have been a true hero, is so easily corrupted by his own suspicions. But this is an atmospheric production with stirring performances, and by stripping the play back to basics, it highlights what's important and makes for a truly memorable experience.

Othello is at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 22 April

Picture credit: Marc Brenner

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From This Author Debbie Gilpin