Theatre Group’s “Othello” Is A Subversive Take On A Shakespearean Classic

The Theatre Group’s Othello adaption, directed by Melanie Noa Jehan, is an original take on the Shakespearean classic. While many new elements are added (a poem and a song as well as changes to the characters), the production stays completely true to the plot. The five-act tragedy is split into two parts; with the first part considerably longer, keeping the tension high.

Othello tells the story of a black general in the Venetian army, who secretly marries his sweetheart Desdemona. The conflict with the Turks moves the setting to Cyprus, and it is on this small island that all the big events take place. Iago, a jealous man angry at his low rank and his wife’s supposed infidelity, convinces Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful. All the accusations fall on Cassio, the lieutenant of the army, and his flawless ‘reputation’. Through the use of dramatic irony, the protagonist is presented as a fool, getting madder and madder with each scene. This leaves the audience questioning who will die in this tragedy.

The director makes a bold move by portraying most of the characters as women. While the protagonist remains a man, it is only Iago who is played by a male actor. As Melanie Noa Jehan describes the setting as ‘timeless-modern’, it is interesting to notice that the female domination links to the centenary anniversary of the partial success of the Suffragettes.

Even though the characters speak in modern English, the most iconic quotes are still easily recognisable. Thus jealousy, so central to the plot, remains the ‘green-eyed monster’, while Iago’s soliloquy reveals his Machiavellian personality to the audience by stating ‘I am not what I am’. The contemporary setting successfully portrays the director’s message: racism, and the trauma experienced by soldiers, are still both alive and well.

Tife Kusoro stunningly portrays the calm personality of Othello. Because of this, the audience is shocked and scared when Iago’s manipulation finally gets to the protagonist’s head. The deeply emotional portrayal of madness, makes the audience sympathise with the character. However, it is Iago who steals the play, with Fen Greatley-Hirsch giving a fantastic performance. By increasingly gaining Othello’s trust, while at the same time revealing his malicious plan to the audience, he deftly conquers the dual personalities of Iago.

The small stage brings the actors close to the audience, thus creates an intimate atmosphere. Ironically, as the use of smoke increases in the second part of the play, even though it is in this act that all the truth and mischief are revealed. The iconic handkerchief is substituted with a vail, highlighting how unjustifiable Othello’s jealousy is, as simple objects can be replaced easily. The khaki uniforms remind the audience at all times that the characters are soldiers and therefore maintain the formal atmosphere of the play.

For someone who studied the play at A Level, I thought I knew it throughout. However, I was proved wrong by such an interesting adaptation. Not only that, but the professionalism of the performance predicts a bright future for the cast and directors.

Karolina Glasek

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