"A Clear and Stylish Production"
by Paul Ackroyd on 18/01/14

Orangutan Productions publicizes its current production at Riverside Studios as a 1940s Film Noir style presentation of Othello The Moor of Venice . But it is in fact a fairly classic but very effective production of Shakespeare's famous tragedy well delivered by a talented cast.
The production designer Libby Todd chose a curtained set effectively using fabrics of different hues as pillars and drapes which were used flexibly to reveal the acting areas for the various scenes with the atmosphere created by lighting changes and minimum necessary sound effects. The cast manoeuvred and rearranged the limited amount of furniture that was needed for each scene.
The cast delivered the text clearly and intelligently. In the title role Stephan Adegbola gave an assured and fluent performance as the Moor and he was well matched by Gillian Saker as a mature and self-assured Desdemona. They made a believable loving couple which made Othello’ s rapid descent into suspicion of her fidelity all the more inexplicable. Iago is always a difficult part to portray because while he is arguably the most evil character in the Canon Shakespeare gives him in his frequent soliloquies and asides to the audience the opportunity to draw the audience into his conspiracies. In the best productions the audience is left conflicted by this unwilling complicity with his treachery but in this production I felt that Peter Lloyd in the role failed to take full advantage of this.
There were a raft of good performances in the supporting roles. I particularly liked Gemma Stroyan’s strong and confident Emilia , every bit the equal of her mistress and husband, and Fergal Phillip’s sensitive and sympathetic Cassio. Perhaps most notable was Max Wilson's Roderigo, a part which is often played as a fool and indeed he is foolish, both to think that he could ever be Desdemona's lover and to be so completely taken in by Iago’s deception, but Wilson made him a sincere and believable character which heightened our disgust at Iago's unscrupulous use of him.
Clearly a lot of thought had gone into the costume design by Eleanor Bull, well described in the programme, and the costumes were very good consistently evoking the 1940s theme. Overall however I did not feel setting the play in this period added much to its dramatic impact and it lost the military background to the action which was very much part of Shakespeare's original conception as was well brought out in the recent National Theatre production.
The director Rebekah Fortune had effectively cut the script so that the plotlines came out very clearly and the machinations around the handkerchief, for example, were as clear as I have ever seen them explained. Under her direction the cast made good use of the available theatre space and the pace of the production never faltered. This combined with the audience’s proximity to the cast in studio three at Riverside Studios made for engaging and intense theatre. Anyone unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s play would, I think, find this production easy to follow while those returning to it will find this version rewarding viewing.

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