By Laura Kressly
Who knew one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies could be funny? Director and composer Claire van Kampen has tapped into a rare rhythm that sees Iago as a weaselly, clownish man lacking power and finesse, yet still manages to twist Othello into knots. Played by Mark Rylance, one of the finest actors of his generation, his performance is the strongest feature of this production.
That’s not to say there isn’t other excellent talent joining him. Andre Holland is a suave, confident Othello – it’s evident why women love him and Desdemona risked everything to elope with him. Aaron Pierre is a similarly personable Cassio, contrasted with his frightening temper and physicality. Adrian Timimi is an authoritative Lodovica, re-gendered as a woman from the original Ludovico. Sheila Atim, a remarkable talent why really needs to be cast in everything, cuts a powerful Emilia who is devoted to her husband and Desdemona, but confidently asserts herself in the face of adversity. There is no week link in this cast, though the chemistry between Othello and Desdemona isn’t always present.
Going back to Rylance – van Kampen has cut chunks of his direct address to the audience that makes them complicit in his plans to undo Othello. This, combined with the haplessness that’s endowed on the character, makes the production surprising even to those that know the play well. His use of comedy and interaction is instinctive and appears spontaneous; subsequently his violence is all the more shocking.
There is little set to speak of, save for a beautifully ornate wooden bed around which the final scene is set. The costume concept lacks cohesion, though. It is generally non-specific ‘period dress’ but there are a few anomalies that clash – Emilia’s jumpsuit, though stunning, is undeniably contemporary. Iago is wearing a red cap that is less militaristic and more plumber.
But these are minor quibbles. A rather different approach to this tragedy, empowered women and a cast of stunning talent make this Othello a solid success for Michelle Terry’s first season.
Othello runs through 13 October.
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