Sunday, November 08, 2009

"Othello" - November 2009

Of all of Shakespeare's plays 'Othello' is the one I'm most familiar with. So, to maintain my interest a production needs to avoid playing things safe. Fortunately director Guy Hollands and the Citizens Theatre Company have taken some bold decisions on the characters - but without taking liberties with the text.

Andy Clark's Iago, while retaining his calculating nature plays down any suggestion of it all being a bit of a game to him - we're in no doubt that he's a nasty, vicious piece of work. He also seems less 'in control'. Rather than following a long planned course of action, at times with his addresses to the audience it feels like he's just making it up as he goes along. Shakespeare's great villain reduced to an almost opportunistic thug? It seems such a waste but actually works incredibly well.

The approach taken with Desdemona is similarly bold. Gone is the notion of a fluffy and flighty young girl - Sarah Haworth instead gives us a strong and independent young woman who loves her husband. But she is rightly angered by his accusations of infidelity and refuses to go quietly to her (distressingly realistic) death. For the first time, this is a Desdemona that actually worked for me as a consistent character - someone I would believe capable of defying her father and convention to marry 'The Moor'.

And initially I thought I was in for a bit of a revelation with Othello also. During his early scenes with Brabantio, Jude Akuwudike has a wonderful moment where a single expression conveys completely the disappointment and frustration of someone confronted by racism. But once we leave Brabantio behind, his Othello - while perfectly fine - is very much played straight down the middle.

Similarly disappointing is a by-the-numbers approach to many of the supporting characters and a performance by Philip Cairns as Cassio that for me never broke the barrier to allow me to see him as more than an actor delivering lines. I also had problems at times with several characters at the rear of the stage lacking sufficient projection to reach the back of the stalls.

But this is compelling theatre and despite a three hour run time (including interval) the production rarely felt it's length. And it was good to see pretty much a full house for the Saturday matinee - it's just a shame two of them were ignorant enough to allow their phones to ring and a group right at the front felt the need to walk out during the curtain call. A bit more respect please people!

Othello runs at the Citizens until Saturday 14th November.
Image by Eamonn McGoldrick used with permission.

4 Heckles

tom grimes said...

Yes, the two girls sitting on the bed could not be heard clearly.

I always approach Shakespeare with a little trepidation - will the language be clear enough that I do not have to concentrate so much no what is being said that I cannot relax and enjoy the show.

Well done, it passed that test and was an enjoyable evening.

Edward said...

I was interested to see what you might make of this Othello. I agree with most of what you say - especially on the taking some liberties with the Iago character, along the lines of what’s-he-going-to-do-now, and how it did actually work. The near random nature of the character’s story just added, for me, to the recurring sense of questioning just what was this character really all about?

And on Desdemona I again with you. There have been a number of productions over the past two or three I have been to and found that the depiction and acting of a strong female role just didn’t come of. But it did in this one and it was good to witness.

Some of the individual actors' dialogue was a little indistinct on our night and there were a few ‘blips’ from Othello but nothing major.

I had an interesting encounter at the bar in the interval when I struck up a conversation with another attendee. He was pretty animated and annoyed by what he felt was the strong intrusion of Scottish accents – it was one of those conversations I would really liked to have carried on with – but then of course the real play intervened and we had to return to it.

But overall it was for me a quality production.

On the dreaded mobile phones, what can be done (apart from 'cruel and unusual forms of punishment'... large visible signs as patrons enter the auditorium?

Statler said...

Thanks for the comments. Accents are a bit of a pet issue of mine. I'm much happier seeing actors playing characters with a voice they can find for the character (regardless of geography) than struggling with one they can't maintain. There's little worse on stage than a wildy wavering accent to take me out of the moment.

As for phones, well it's entirely within the power of theatres to put an end to it. How many people these days walk up to the box office on the day and pay cash? Every ticket purchase should be traceable. Simply ask those sitting around offenders to report their seat number to the box office and have them banned from any future ticket purchases. Having of course warned all theatregoers in advance that this policy will be strictly enforced.

Anonymous said...

Animated and annoyed by the 'intrusion' of Scottish accents? In a theatre with a Gorbals postcode? With a full cast of native Scots, with the exception of Mr Akuwudike, are our Scottish actors expected to perform in 'Received Pronunciation' (whatever that is these days)or some kind of Estuary English just because that's how we think Shakespeare should be performed? The practice of actors having their regional tones thrashed out of them at drama school is long gone. No-one really knows how Shakespeare's actors spoke but it certainly wasn't in 'RP'. If anything, regional accents lend themselves extremely well to the muscularity and richness of the language. I find it astonishing that this snobbish attitude still exists. Awa an' bile thy heid, my leige