"Brilliant staging and excellent acting"
by Matthew Partridge for remotegoat on 22/03/19

Phil Willmott’s Othello, currently running at the Union Theatre, relocates Shakespeare’s play from sixteenth century Venice and Cyprus to the fading days of Colonial India. While this may not seem particularly radical, it adds new layers of complexity to Shakespeare’s examination of jealousy and racial divide. In this version, Othello is an Indian soldier fast-tracked into the British Army, and put in command of white officers and non-coms, including Iago (Rikki Lawton), who has been passed over for promotion in favour of Army Chaplain Cassio (Jerome Dowling). When Iago elopes with Desdemona (Carlortta De Gregori), Iago spots an opportunity to get his revenge, whilst taking advantage of spurned Roderigo (Maximilian Marston).

The real strength of the production lies in the way that Willmott and set designers Justin Williams and Jonny Rust have recreated the mystery and menace of a dying Empire. From the façade where most of the action takes place, to the sacred candles that shroud the stage with smoke, we are constantly reminded that tragedy is only around the corner. Wilmott also manages to create several memorable set pieces, such as Othello and Iago conspiring while the rest of the cast attend a church service. Similarly, the drunken brawl that results in Cassio’s dismissal becomes a bloody massacre, with the panicked officers firing wildly into an imaginary crowd.

However, all this staging would be useless if the two main actors, Lawton and Wade, weren’t so compelling. Although he begins the play as little more than a glorified waiter, Lawton is able to turn them against each other in a bid to further his plans, and very nearly succeeds in getting away with it. For his part, Wade is very conscious of the fact that, while he may be higher in rank, he is always going to be an outsider, as shown by the fact that he is relieved of his command because the British Army can never full trust Indian-born officers.

While this production is mainly about Wade and Lawton, the other actors are strong as well. These include Carlortta De Gregori as Desdemona, Carrie Lloyd as Emilia, Maximilian Marston as Roderigo, Jeremy Todd as the Duke, Kit Carson as Montano and Megan Grech as Bianca. Overall, this is an excellent production that manages to capture all the nuances of Shakespeare’s play.

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