Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"'Tis a pageant to keep us in false gaze"

After the pantos and family shows, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory opened their spring season in Bristol with Othello ~ a play about racism and false reports, about how hatred and lies can destroy trust and love ~ a play for our times, you could say.  This modern-dress production puts the focus on contemporary relevance from the opening moment, showing Othello as a muslim, sharing his prayer with his new bride in a tender moment. Combining dungarees with sixteenth century speech is a big step away from realism and director Richard Twyman makes the most of this by adding some non-scripted physical sequences - aggressive singing and a wild brawl for the men and a private dance for the two women. Opinions may differ but to me these perfectly fitted the theme of the tragedy - Grayson Perry with his views on masculinity would I think approve.
Andrew Hilton, artistic director for STF, always assembles a strong cast and this team is no exception. Mark Lockyer’s Iago brings touches of black humour to a performance that never drags and Katy Stephens is absolutely superb as his enabling wife Emelia. Norah Lopez Holden’s Desdemona is delightful and immensely moving as she struggles to contain the mad anger of the beast that was her gentle-giant lover Othello, played by Abraham Popoola. And Brian Lonsdale’s Geordie interpretation of hapless Roderigo brought moments of joy in a play of progressive darkness.
The in-the-round format of the Tobacco Factory venue works really effectively for this drama, as the audience is always visible: we watch like voyeurs and when Iago, obsessed with jealousy for the man he calls 'the Moor’, expounds his plots we become collusive, passively watching the terrible consequences and undeserved suffering. Again, much like life.
(images TheOtherRichard)
The production is touring in Exeter & London in May and June, and then heads for the Shakespeare Festival in Neuss Globe, so get to Bristol while you can. Unless of course you live in Germany.

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