first night


Sophie Zeldin-O'Neill's take on Collingwood's ambitious production of "Othello"

I adore Othello. It’s probably my favourite Shakespeare story after that one with Joseph Fiennes, and if it wasn’t for the gratuitous use of the word ‘Bottom’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’d venture to deem it by far the most fun as well. It’s gritty, it’s exciting, it’s heart-wrenchingly moving, and it features Iago, arguably the most complex and fascinating villain in all of English Literature. It’s got all the rollercoaster ups and downs characteristic of a great entertainment piece; Love, destroyed by jealousy; Friendship, destroyed by betrayal; Costumes, destroyed by ketchup. And when the curtain falls, your mind is still ringing with unanswered questions. I’ve always found the heroine wetter than a weekend at Butlins, but that I can overcome because this is the stuff that makes an episode of Poirot look like Playdays.

Performed in the unexpected setting of Collingwood’s Turning Circle, located just outside the college’s main entrance, and with a most favourable clime for the eventide, I could have bet my bottom sovereign that this performance would be precisely the summer extravaganza I had hoped for. And in many regards, I would have been quids in.
I liked the decision to set this performance in a police station. I believe it was one made with the intention of endowing it with a hint of ‘timelessness’, and to all intents and purposes, it worked very well. In combination with the heavily graffiti-ed walls enclosing the staging area, the set crew did a superb job of injecting the whole thing with a Baz Luhrmann-esque smattering of modernity. However the cast could have done it significantly more justice. At the risk of sounding horrendously pretentious, I just didn’t believe that they believed. I would venture to suggest that the production’s two major saving graces came in the form of Robbie Cowlin’s Iago (whose stage presence was, at times, electric) and Andrew Kirby as the man himself, Othello. I couldn’t help but notice the protagonist’s decided pallor, but the decision to emblazon one side of his face with ornate black patterning was visually striking and theatrically successful, since it was in keeping with the contemporary thread running through the production and echoed the character’s increasingly elaborate two-faced-ness. As for the rest, I found Vincent McAviney’s Cassio not at all unengaging, and I’d like to schedule a coffee date with Clarissa Millen – Her Emilia was feisty and fun, with all the wry humour you’d need to cope with being the wife of a psychopath.
Despite my best intentions, however, I felt a perpetual sense of frustration as the show wore on, because whilst I was aware that the cast were, out of obligation, comprised entirely out of the members of one college, I thought they could have pushed a little more for the kind of energy this play demands. For an outdoor production, not nearly enough emphasis was placed on the need to maintain volume. In addition to this, lines were often delivered in a monotone, without any obvious awareness of meaning, or were drowned out by unnecessary movement on stage.
Having seen several productions by The Woodplayers, I know that they are capable of so much more. Given Othello’s nature as a directorial debut, I am certain that these guys have the ability to produce a fantastic show in the future. The main actors came across as being savvy and passionate about their roles, and the comedic moments were often brought out tremendously, eliciting all the laughs required to intersperse the play’s predominant intensity. The strengths in this production undoubtedly outweighed the weaknesses, and despite my qualms I still went home at the end of the performance with that warm, fuzzy ‘fresh from a summer Shakespeare’ glow. Even if all that glittered was not gold, it certainly had its fair share of sparkle.

25 September 2009

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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