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Othello, The CLF Art Café

William Shakespeare
Directed by Anthony Green

★★★

Pros: The modernization of this production of Othello makes the verse and story clearer and more comprehensible in its relevancy to current affairs.

Cons: The theatre was freezing to the point of distraction.

Our Verdict: This is a sharp and sleek production which lends thought to those serving in present day wars. While the performances are, for the most part, impressively robust, the production lacked a certain insight.

Courtesy of Othello Peckham
A black box theatre in London on a nippy February evening is a far cry from the Venetian and Cypriot setting of one of Shakespeare’s classic tragedies. Despite the audience being almost on the stage itself, there was something in the minimalist staging and dark auditorium that kept me outside of the story. While I can appreciate the desire to place emphasis on the simple beauty of the language through a bare and stark design aesthetic, sadly it created an overwhelming sense of doom. One might say this is obvious and fitting as it is not only classified as a tragedy (and rightly so) but we are also explicitly told by central baddie Iago of the catastrophe that is in store. However, I found that this looming sense of the final scene kept me out of the present moments of the play and, in the cold of the theatre, simultaneously willing the play to end.
Having said that, the performances were, for the most part, insightfully delivered, illuminating the brilliance and intricacy of the language in a manner I had not encountered before. Particularly impressive was Jack Johns’ Iago, a chameleon like creature who easily slid from exposing his malicious plans of deceit to feigned love and honesty. I did not know whether to hate him or sign him up as my new best friend.

Equally convincing were Max Calandrew as Roderigo, giving more dimension and personality to the secondary character than I ever remember reading and Callum McGowan as Cassio, a devoted soldier whose side you were on no matter what. Izabella Urbanowicz played the verse with great skill, presenting an Emilia with the right balance of defiance and wifely devotion. However, I was disappointed by a Desdemona who was more fair maiden of yore than the passionate young woman who perhaps falls more in love with the skill of Othello’s sword than with the man himself?

Admittedly, updating this particular piece of Shakespeare into modern dress and context works very well in the current political and social climate, again shedding a clarity on the text that could easily get muffled in its reading. This is a strong production of Shakespeare delivered by a talented young cast who expertly convey the passion and turmoil of love and jealousy. I would recommend it but don’t forget to bring your winter woollies along with you!

NOTE: We are reliably informed that the temperature of the venue was a one-off situation, and that it has now been restored to a more amenable temperature!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Othello runs at The CLF Art Café, The Bussey Building until 22 February 2013. 
Box Office: 0844 8700 877 or book online at  http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/othellopeckham 

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