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Othello Review - Union Theatre

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

You enter the theatre to a mist with traditional songs being played on the piano in a club in, what you later learn, is the Punjab. As with all Shakespeare stories now the time and location have been changed and is set during a war, but the script is mostly maintained. They make good use of this change with a great set and some beautiful costumes although the change doesn’t really add anything to the story.

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s more complex tragedies. Part of the story hinges on the hero’s fatal flaw but in this story it’s not clear what that is. It’s often stated that it’s jealousy but this is not something that’s inherent rather is built up and developed by the villain rather than being an intrinsic part of his character. Really his fatal flaw is his trusting nature or even because he is “one who loved not wisely but too well”. This leaves a very morally questionable angle to the story.

Some of this moral ambiguity comes out well. This hinges on the depiction of Iago and his manipulation of Othello is played well. It has been questioned whether Iago has any real motives but effort is put in to draw out the motives that the script hints at. However at the end the director made an intriguing decision to negate a lot of the good work done earlier to make Iago a complex and rounded character. Rather than keep that at the end they make him a panto villan.

There are several good parts to the production. Shakespeare can be difficult to understand yet this made it accessible. The story was easy to understand and the poetry of the script shone though. Desdemona in particular was well depicted and her strength of character comes through. All the supporting cast do excellent jobs in their respective roles.

Where the direction fell down was in how Othello was depicted. Othello’s decline into despair should be a gradual move and even then his love for Desdemona should be at the forefront. The fact that a soldier could be so easily swayed is also an interesting point that makes the change more complex. But it felt that he moved from rational to complete rage in one scene. From then on the performance was one note. None of the complexities of Othello’s character or the conflict he feels are brought out.

The production is understandable and enjoyable and there are some strong performances, especially Rikki Lawton’s portrayal of Iago. But overall the deeper parts of the story get missed. This gets a three Laura Michelle-Kelly star rating.

It’s playing until April 6th at the Union Theatre and tickets are available here


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