Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Pamela Schermann
Reviewer: Michael Gray
In a dank, chilly space beneath an office block that would make a useful car park, a City worker sleeps not at, but on, his desk. The weight of the faceless building seems to press down on him as he stirs restlessly.
This is Iago. In Pamela Schermann’s new version of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the jealousy is driven by raw ambition, the desire to supplant the “arithmetician” Cassio as the Moor’s right-hand-man. Inspired, apparently, by the brutality and callousness of today’s business world, she has moved her ruthlessly trimmed text from Venice to London, asking how much we should sacrifice to achieve our career goals.
It’s a good question, and sits well here in the Rose, just over the river from the Square Mile. But in the end it’s the workings of jealousy, the manipulation of motives, that fascinates most in this intimate space, thanks in great measure to the excellent Iago of Trevor Murphy. Genial, persuasive, but obviously driven by a thirst for power, coveting the executive chair, delighting at Othello’s convulsions, revelling in the word-play and the point-scoring. His “I am a villain ?” is brilliantly done, and the closing moments, when the two men are locked into uncomprehending paralysis, are the strongest in the piece.
Just five actors here – Bianca (Charlie Blackwood) a presence on Skype only. James Barnes is physically imposing as Othello, but not especially convincing as military commander or captain of industry. His finest moments come with the fires of jealousy – “It is the cause” movingly done with a single flame. His Desdemona is Samantha Lock – tall, passionate, her best scene the morality banter with Emilia, the “simple bawd” engagingly played, with energy and passion, by Ella Duncan. The hapless Cassio is Denholm Spurr.
There are some ingenious ideas – “take my office” as Iago hands back his ID badge, the night watch becomes a graveyard shift, Desdemona searches her diary for a window “on Wednesday morn”, the corporate catering at the start includes strawberries. Voice-over is used for some soliloquies, which accentuates the intimacy, but also amplifies vocal flaws. But the stop-motion effect is powerfully deployed. The space is sparingly used – the red lines in the floor for murderous thoughts, a laser-pen killing across the lake – “the vapour of a dungeon”. Gillian Steventon’s design gives us black and white details – the designer twigs, the swivel chair – and gauze hangings which, in the absence of wedding sheets, become Desdemona’s shroud.
A pacy, fascinating take on the tragedy, with a very strong ending. But only Iago really manages successfully to combine compelling characterization with mastery of the verse speaking.
Runs until February 28th | PhotoRobert Piwko