"Beautifully staged, but lacks tension"
by Daniel Ray on 05/05/10

A very reduced Shakespeare company
When Othello was first performed at court in 1604 it was already a stream lined version of a much older tale. The plot had been taken from Hecatommithi; an Italian melodrama. Shakespeare had then refined the plot and developed the characters.

If it was the intention of Lazarus Theatre Company to effect the same streamlining of the text that Shakespeare had executed over 500 years ago then they were already fighting an uphill struggle. The production had trimmed off what they must have considered the unnecessary parts of the story to condense the play to 90mins (without an interval). The way in which director Ricky Dukes tackled this was to use representative physical theatre, which was interwoven throughout the play. In the intimate setting of The Blue Elephant Theatre, the 15 strong cast provided a sea of bodies which leant a rich scenography to many scenes. This was juxtaposed against the dark and faded grandeur of the set, which was both versatile and beautifully conceived by designer Tom Couling. The use of music was also well executed underpinning or heightening the action. Even the use of a single drum beat under the frantic voices of a war planning sequence was both beautiful and tense.
However, the tension seemed to lose its way as this version lacked the vital pressure of jealousy that motivates all of the pivotal plot points. I believe that Dukes vision was intended to show a man driven mad by love however the ensemble, showed a playworld without romance; where a man is only as good as his reputation, his class and his manner and a woman is only there to be owned and sexually objectified. Which are still important themes, just delivered without the sense of danger.

A notable performance was given by Robin Holden, whose portrayal of Iago added spice to his malevolence. Sam Donnelly's interpretation of a very cut down Cassio was well played as an affable young rogue. This was so much the case, that one wonders why the naive yet potent Desdemona didn't choose him instead of Othello.

Over all this was a well conceived piece that had many innovative and admirable traits. Personally, I feel that cuts were well chosen in everything except the removal of the interval; as given that the pew seating was uncomfortable it made the cut down version seem longer than it was and everyone was checking their watches from 45 minutes in. However, the play was interestingly interpreted and worth watching, if only for the beautiful chorus work... oh and the raining set!

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