Director: Max Lewendel
Writer: William Shakespeare
Reviewer: Amy Taylor
Venetian tragedy, racial tension and deadly ambition lie at the heart of Max Lewendel’s revival of his 2009 production ofOthello. A co-production with Icarus Theatre Collective and Kings Theatre, Southsea, this production brings music, energy and unity to this infamous and controversial tragedy.
Written in the early 16thcentury, Shakespeare’s classic tragedy is set in Venice against the backdrop of the Turkish invasion at the time and follows the evil Iago (David Martin) as he plots the downfall of his ensign, Othello (Gary Stoner), a general in the Venetian army, through a tangled web of lies and deceit that eventually leads to betrayal and tragedy.
Icarus Theatre Collective’s revival of their 2009 adaptation of Shakespeare’s infamous tragedy brings together the rich themes of war, race, jealous, hatred, deception and murder to create an almost timeless play chronicling the extremes of human ambition. Although named after the eponymous “Moor of Venice”, Shakespeare’s focus, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not on Othello, but on the jealous and devious Iago. Throughout the piece Iago, using lies, deception and manipulation uses Othello and others throughout the play to plant the seeds of jealousy and doubt that lead to the piece’s bloody and tragic ending.
And herein lies the true message of this play; manipulation, weakness, jealousy and perhaps most importantly, ambition. Iago is angry with Othello for promoting the young Cassio (Julian Pindar) over him, and in seeking his revenge he chooses to play on Othello’s weaknesses to get what he wants. However, the weaknesses he exploits are varied and damning; the inherent racism for a man of Othello’s creed and powerful standing in society, his secret marriage to Desdemona (Holly Piper) and perhaps most importantly of all, his jealousy. While the story ofOthellois very well-known, Lewendel manages to bring something fresh and unforgettable to the piece by using the skills of a group of highly talented actors who also play a selection of string instruments with ease, style and effortless elegance. Although the scenes with the many violins and cellos played by the cast can become a little repetitive, the music transforms and brings Shakespeare’s language to a new level, making the play more engaging, more exciting and more involving than before. Additionally, unlike the traditional portrayal of Desdemona and the other female characters, Piper, along with her contemporaries Deborah Klayman as Emiliaand Alice Bonifacio as Bianca, portray their rôles with dignity and strength and without the traditional “wetness” of Shakespeare’s heroines. An accomplished and impressive version ofOthello, Icarus Theatre Collective are a company to watch in 2014.