"Pretty Othello needs some substance"
by Alex Malgua for remotegoat on 20/04/10

Is Lazarus Theatre Company a one-trick pony? It surely takes a deeper understanding of Othello to tell a love story full of jealousy, passion and betrayal than decorating Shakespeare's tale with some stylish 40's inspired outfits and pretty poses.

Othello v 20.10 is not a disastrous piece of theatre; but it's simply dull, safe and overtly gimmicky. It also can't escape this awful air of dejà-vu, courtesy of Lazarus' modern take on John Webster's Duchess of Malfi in February 2009. Back then, transporting Webster's forgotten play to Wartime London - the action mainly taking place before and after the Blitz - felt rather astute. The choreography was as pretty but refreshing and with a sense of purpose; the costume design as elegant but giving a nod to the dark tone of the play and the set was kept to its bare minimum allowing Lazarus' artistic director, Ricky Dukes, to make full and clever use of the Blue Elephant's rather intimate stage. At the time, I had issues with his production - primarily because the deliberate connection between the play and the WWII era was left unexplored - but, my scepticism aside, Dukes' Malfi definitely left me with a good impression of an intriguing emerging Company with an interesting approach to Classic theatre.

One year on, Othello doesn't show any progress in the Company's creativity. Neither does it show, if he has any, Dukes' passion for this classic. Instead, with too many obvious similarities with Malfi in its choreography, designs and narrative structure, Othello seems to be victim of what now feels like a lazy recycling tactic rather than an audacious move.

Consequently, I rapidly had enough of the production's DIY glamour and couldn't wait to immerse myself into the minds of the complex Moor, his naïve wife and his devilish traitors. Except that the cast never gave such delivery. Sadly Othello's Gibson and Desdemona's Martin, along with the remaining ensemble, seemed too contrived in their superficial demeanour to be able to challenge the clinical conventions of their delivery. Not only did they fail to capture my imagination by offering an exciting update of the characters' traditional composition, they made them also look passe and horribly juvenile.

Similarly to Malfi, the play seemed to be condensed conveniently around 90mn to fit the purposes of accessibility rather than creative (re-)discovery. And ultimately, that's Othello's downfall as it raises the inevitable question of the director's motives behind his will to stage Shakespeare. It might be time for Lazarus Theatre Company to raise up their game and show what they're truly made of.

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