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Othello, Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe – Review

The hierarchy between Othello (Peace Oseyenum) and the sneaky network of unfaithfuls beneath him/her (although the actors are female, the characters are still their original gender) is set up around the stairs, at the outset of the play, which wouldn’t be possible in a usual theatre. So, from the first moment, we feel the long, dark tunnel stretching out above and beneath us. This is a place of no escape, and as Othello descends the stairs, you get the feeling (s)he might not escape either… Some of the acting is forced at times. In the moments of wild rage…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

This all-female Othello makes great use of the body as a prop, really gripping the audience in the tightly-controlled movements of the actors and the strange surroundings of a cold tunnel below Rotherhithe.

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The hierarchy between Othello (Peace Oseyenum) and the sneaky network of unfaithfuls beneath him/her (although the actors are female, the characters are still their original gender) is set up around the stairs, at the outset of the play, which wouldn’t be possible in a usual theatre. So, from the first moment, we feel the long, dark tunnel stretching out above and beneath us. This is a place of no escape, and as Othello descends the stairs, you get the feeling (s)he might not escape either…

Some of the acting is forced at times. In the moments of wild rage and terrible misery everything works brilliantly, such as when Othello discovers Iago’s (Zoë Lambrakis) tricks and when Desdemona (Imogen Gray) sings her sad song. The middle ground is less precise. When Iago is confessing his/her plan to ruin everything, (s)he throws a jacket on the ground in an obviously staged dramatic huff. The natural feeling of the unbearable situation really comes out at the extremes of feeling.

The truly outstanding moments among the actors are their collective actions, when their bodies become the stage and the props, beginning with their journey from Venice to Cyprus. The whole cast piles together and swirls as both the sea and the boat, carrying in slow motion the frantic sailors over them. A similar scene occurs as all the soldiers have a party, with Iago removing him/herself from the crowd to convince Cassio (Anna Thygesen) to drink more and begin the tricky twists that drive Roderigo (Francesca Elise) mad.

This is where the simplicity of the stage is used to great effect. The attempted simplicity of the music, though, is strange. It suddenly blurts out over the scene, and then dims quickly, leaving us waiting for something to change according to the music, but the collection of bodies is still the focus. Either more constant or more absent music is needed. The same problem happens with the fake blood, which is spilt over most of the characters and becomes almost absurd by the time Othello commits suicide over Desdemona.

The acting is impressive for the most part, and the staging is cleverly done, making this a version of the classic drama that is certainly worth seeing.

About Elliot C Mason

Elliot C Mason
E. C. Mason is a poet, playwright and Ph.D. candidate at Birkbeck, researching race in contemporary poetry. In addition to putting on many exhibitions, performances and readings with the group he founded, Penny Drops Collective, his poems, articles and essays have appeared in various media, including Exclamat!on, [smiths], Undercurrent Philosophy and We Will Be Free anthology. Among other awards, he has won the Bart Moore-Gilbert Essay Prize and the University of Bolton Poetry Award 2018.