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Review: OTHELLO, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

A quietness descends upon the bare Tobacco Factory stage as Othello lays out his prayer mat at the top of the show. As he finishes, he hides his mat and beads and puts on his crucifix. We're left in no doubt what he needs to hide. This season's offering from Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory is a story of politics, love and being an outsider in a world that mistrusts you.

At the heart of this play though is Iago, the snubbed military man passed over for promotion by Othello. Mark Lockyer gives him depth, cunning and the kind of shameless attitude seemingly reserved for those in high office. He plays the room well in his solitary moments, like a conductor commanding an orchestra. Lockyer's Iago is so impressed with his own plans that there is a sickening pride with which he laughs so callously at his wickedness.

Elsewhere, the romance between Othello and Desdemona is played with real tenderness by Abraham Popoola and Norah Lopez Holden. They have the giddiness of a new couple that is endearing to watch. Popoola is an engaging Othello with real military presence and emotional depth, but occasionally his verse is lost in the passion of his speech. Lopez Holden, meanwhile, hops and skips through the verse as naturally as if it were her own.

The production has a brutal, modern feel. The politicians of Venice strut round in sharp suits, whilst Emilia has modern glamour decked out in skinny jeans and heels. Matthew Graham's banks of downlights over the rectangular stage lend a literally pulsating intensity to the action. Georgia Lowe's design is sparse but with memorable touches like Othello's boxing bag. It's low on spectacle but high on drama.

In a story where skilled political manipulators play on people's mistrust of one another, it's not hard to find a modern day metaphor. However, director Richard Twyman walks a tightrope here - the production gives enough nods to modern political climate to feel significant without bashing the audience over the head with the comparison. It's fresh, vibrant and relevant, and there's not much more you can ask.

Othello at Tobacco Factory until 1 April

Picture credit: The Other Richard

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