Othello at the Leicester Square
How were Shakespeare’s plays originally played out? The answer is: with a bunch of actors, a few props and little else. And that’s what the Grassroots Shakespeare London grasps. Taking Othello back to basics, Siobhan Daly, founder of the theatre company, offers a stripped back production of Shakespeare’s famous and most tragic of tragedies, handing us a raw performance beautiful in its simplicity, complex in its passion. Bravo!
An intimate theatre with barely three rows of seats adorning the stage, there is probably no better place to immerse yourself into the wonders of this play as actors weave in and around the audience, drawing you into the drama. A perfect set up for the scheming Iago (James Alexandrou) who seduces with his soliloquies, speaking closely, as though we are a willing party in the plot against Othello. And a perfect opportunity to witness close up the pain, the torment, the rages and the laughter as though not merely spectators, but witnesses to the events that unravel.
Daly doesn’t use lavish scenery: clever lighting, materials, music and costumes sweep us back to 16th century Venice, and the actors do the rest of the work – just as Shakespeare intended. Nari Blair-Mangat plays a romantic, elegant and noble Othello who, softly spoken, declares his love for Desdemona, gushing, “she loved me for the dangers I had pass’d, and I loved her that she did pity them.” Later, tormented by suspicions of his wife’s unfaithfulness, Mangat unleashes Othello’s irrational, jealous streak. A wonderful moment follows, when we see Othello in all his sensitivity, rich with an atmosphere of pain and air of deceit, as Iago tells him Desdemona has betrayed him with Cassius.
Somewhat lacking, though, is a strong sense of leadership in Mangat’s performance as a prince and general of the Venetian army. Nonetheless, this weakness of character balances with Othello’s easy manipulation by Iago, which Alexandrou plays with a roguish rather than sinister flair. Annabel Bates is also compelling as a confused and pained Desdemona, who becomes more broken as her husband’s jealousy rages. Although credit has to be given to the entire cast, who bring great performances all round, a special mention has to be given to Alexandrou for his ability to infuse a mood and atmosphere that is powerful and absorbing to watch.
An easy four stars for a revitalised, passionate performance, worthy of celebrating Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.
Photos: Oliver Towse
Othello is on at the Leicester Square Theatre until 26th April 2014, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch an interview with James Alexandrou here: