Othello at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
While Othello may find himself a “fixed figure for the time of scorn”, this is anything but a static repetition of previous productions. The play’s themes and words have haunted the English stage for centuries, conjuring up ghosts of female subjugation, race, masculine authority and mental illness. The incorporation of modern music and objects alongside the realistic Elizabethan costumes (even codpieces) and set gives the characters a ghostly presence on stage – as if we too are watching a haunting vision of a time past and present.
The first thing we see is a bloodstained bed in the centre of the stage. It looms there for the entire performance, foreshadowing the fate of the characters. Interesting changes have been made to the script: Cassio is played by a woman, and immediately the character becomes more central than simply a pawn in Iago’s plot; she is another victim of male jealousy, but one who survives the bloodbath. The final scene ends with Cassio and Bianca tearing up the bed, ripping apart the pillows, slashing the mattress, symbolically destroying the traces of violence and male power. The small space of the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse complements this play: it creates a feeling of claustrophobia and inescapable darkness. Iago, excellently acted by Sam Spruell, comes up close to the audience luring us in.
Kurt Egyiawan captures the eloquence and honour of Othello. Even from the beginning he escapes representing him as an all-powerful warrior; he instead is a convincing, tender lover and we can comprehend why Desdemona falls for him. The shift, therefore, to jealous murderer is all the more shocking. Natalie Klamar equally refrains from playing Desdemona as a passive victim, she fights back and is active on the stage.
An Elizabethan cover of Lana Del Rey’s Video Games is performed throughout and it works. It reconnects the idea of loving “not wisely, but too well” in our modern psyche. Occasionally words are modernised: in his witty and misogynistic repartee with Desdemona, Iago uses terms such as “banter” and references football. Duke Lodovico takes a picture on his phone of the slaughtered victims at the end of the piece. In this way director Ellen McDougall updates this challenging play without removing it from its own context. It speaks of Othello “as I am”, creating a haunting dialogue between the past and present by drawing a picture that remains real and can be understood.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Othello is at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from 23rd February until 22nd April 2017, for further information or to book visit here.