Shakespeare’s Othello follows a Moorish general through the viciously fatal playing of his mind and emotions carried out by one who is determined to hate him with, it seems, flimsy cause. This enemy is Iago, a character famous for his addresses to the audience in which he explains the lies that create rabid jealousy within the Moor, all the while being hailed by everyone as ‘honest Iago’. This role needs to be very well performed for a production to work and is here played by an actor capable of delivering clarity, cunning and credibility.
DugOut Theatre’s Othello is very clear in general, with little set – a crate or box here, bed, table and chair there – effective lighting that includes spotlights which highlight and condense scenes well, and background sounds that set climate. Some early scenes wait to be set before starting, harming the flow of the piece, and unfortunately the pace of the final scene is damaged by too much time being taken in revealing Iago’s malice.
Othello himself would benefit from having a military bearing to start, which others manage, and by refraining from pecking, poking, pointing and pushing his face into others’ throughout. The actor does come into his own once he is being tormented by jealous fears, with the scenes where Iago works on him being particularly strong, but more muscular articulation would help to stop passion obscuring words. Othello’s wife, Desdemona, is played with an appealing youthfulness and has real feeling when in pain, though her voice needs greater support. Cassio, one badly used by Iago for being a rival in military matters, could perhaps be played stronger in personality, but his scenes work well and include fine fight moments, well choreographed.
Emilia has a certain presence and shows understanding of her role, but thinks rather slowly and allows too many pauses and stagey movements, connected to direction as much as acting, to rob a climactic scene of its dynamic energy and emotional impact. This inclination in the direction is also seen in minor characters who, despite being able to speak their lines well and provide light relief at times, are held stationary and unresponsive in situations where they would be bound to react to physical threats.
Overall, though, the direction is strong in telling the story clearly, with points of physical and visual interest, and in making a 70s setting, with its music and technology, support the action. In the end, it is Iago who shines most brightly, his plans well expressed, his machinations believable in their success and his manner slyly engaging. A little more vocal variation, possibly with a touch of warmth, could enhance the performance further, but this is an accomplished young actor, very much part of what makes the show worth seeing.
This Othello is a solid production, well thought out, with a strong Iago leading it and actors who, overall, handle the language clearly and with understanding.
By Danielle Farrow
5 – 20 August, 18:45 (20:45) @ Zoo Roxy