Pros: Wonderful acting at an especially enchanting venue.
Cons: The character of Iago is almost too sane and ordinary, even to the point of being likeable.
The Malachites are continuing on their mission to reconnect Shakespeare with Shoreditch; yet with a slight and most welcome deviation. This winter they take a break from their Shoreditch 19 programme of performing the works Shakespeare is said to have written at his East London residence. Instead they are taking on two of the heavyweights, Othello and King Lear. These mature works, both considered amongst the four ‘great tragedies’, intend to offer up a comparison with the earlier works and give a sense of perspective on the Bard as a writer in development.
Othello is Shakespeare’s ultimate expression of the ‘green-eyed monster’, so if like me you’re partial to a bit of jealousy, love and betrayal, this is one you’ll want to see over and over again. A Moorish army general (Othello) has secretly married the beautiful daughter (Desdemona) of a prominent politician. His trusted aide (Iago) tricks him into believing Desdemona to be adulterous. Of course with tragedies being tragedies, you can safely assume that little else good happens after that as we are led into a thoroughly engrossing and utterly devastating downward spiral.
St Leonard’s Church provides a stunning visual backdrop for both the official and domestic scenes of the play. The altar is put to appropriate use in showing us the wedding of Desdemona and Othello whilst piano accompaniment and some timely blasts of a French horn help to create and alter the mood as scenes open and close. The costumes for the most part stay within the period and help transport you to medieval Venice. The candles and lights along the side balconies create a pleasing ambience, especially within the intimacy of Desdemona’s bedchamber. The cast is on the whole very talented and perform superbly throughout. Jude Owusu is great as the romantic and later murderous Othello.
Yet it is Iago who is the key to any performance of this play, after all, he has the most lines. Though Martin Coat gives a splendid and natural performance as Iago, I couldn’t completely connect with the attempt to appeal to the character’s almost perfect sanity and ordinariness. Psychopaths are such creatures perhaps, but I found myself yearning for a panto-style aside (forgive me) where his despicable nature would be made more readily apparent. You get a good sense of his manipulation for sure; the chilling moment where he comforts Desdemona felt devilishly warped. The terrifying and interesting aspect to Iago is not the hate he feels toward Othello, but the fact that there it’s no solid explanation as to how it arose in the first place.
An unfortunate and perhaps unavoidable downside to the church is the acoustics. Unless you’re very close to the actors, the echoes sometimes drown out the speech. I did miss a lot of the dialogue but I’m glad to say that the staging goes a long wait in counteracting this problem. I was always clear on what the characters were thinking or about to think. The entire main section of the church is utilized, which made the action all the more interesting. And the choreography of the sword duels and the opening and closing skirmishes were excellent.
Ultimately, I’m all for The Malachite’s appreciation of the play as it was written, rather than trying to directly link it to modern situations. To see Shakespeare in an original venue is special, the Lord Chamberlain’s men are in fact buried in the cemetery. The solid performances and attention to detail combine to makes this a worthwhile and enjoyable production. Charmingly, the staff on hand are very welcoming and during the interval, if you part with 50p you’ll get the most comforting of cup of tea you could hope for.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Benjamin Blyth
Producer: The Malachites
Booking Until: 29 November 2014
Booking Link: http://www.themalachites.co.uk/#!about1/ctzs