Othello

Everyman, Liverpool

Written by William Shakespeare

Directed by Gemma Bodinetz

In this new production of Othello the past and present collide. A hand-embroidered hankerchief and a smartphone symbolise our human need to love and be loved, to accept and be accepted; and the destructive power of betrayal and fake news. Director Gemma Bodinetz and the repertory company at the Everyman have produced an Othello that is absolutely fresh and timeless. There is no sense of the frustration of a 400 year old play being shoehorned to appease or entice a modern audience. It just works from start to finish. The much heralded casting of Golda Rosheuvel as a female Othello is both exciting and intriguing. However this becomes at times almost irrevelant as it is the emotional depth and intensity of her performance that stand out as the most pertinert aspects of this casting choice.

Golda Rosheuvel is Othello as an army General that is female, black and gay. She is successful, respected and courageous. It could have been so obvious to play her Othello as a butch lesbian with a crew cut and and a jutting jaw. Instead we see a strong, intelligent woman who has the quiet certainty of being in love and feeling loved. She is not large in physical stature and is womanly whether in battle fatigues or a simple flowing gown. She is measured and reflective in all areas of her life until confronted by Iago whose thwarted ambition and jealous vilification of others conspire to destroy her faith in love and honour.

Patrick Brennan is undeniably effective as the charming manipulator dripping his poison with all the reasonableness and solicitation of a corrupt politician at a General Election. His Iago is odious as he reveals his plans to the audience and truly terrifying in his own certainty regarding his actions. He is the epitome of the reasonable white man hellbent on obliterating anyone who is “other”, as he moves around the stage spitting honeyed venom like Trump on Twitter.

Cerith Flinn plays Cassio as a taut, muscled squaddie with a heart of gold whether fighting honourably on the battlefied, carousing with a bottle in hand or wooing the winsome Bianca – a delightfully comedic Leah Gould. His Cassio is a fitting replacement for Othello as a young soldier with a pure heart and good intentions.

Emily Hughes performance is fresh and vivid. She combines girlish delicacy and youth with gritty determination to seek out fairness and equality for others. She is fair and beautiful but her character is what really defines why Othello loves her. She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them.

The swift unravelling of Othello’s calm reason into jealous, vengeful rage might seem at odds with this professional soldier and loving wife. Iago has broken the implicit trust essential between comrades on the battlefield and partners in a happy marriage. The result is a tortured woman stricken with epilepsy and deep emotional trauma. A modern take on this might well be an Othello suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) who is battle scarred and reacting to new trauma with paranoia, dissociative seizures and the hyperarousal of murderous rage.

The final scenes played out in a floaty, white gauze bedchamber are gut wrenchingly poignant. This gossamer veil highlights the ephemeral nature of life and gives a dreamlike softness to both the brutality and the tenderness of the murder scene. Such betrayal and heartbreak plays out and the emotional struggle for Othello is palpable. Even knowing the end of this 400 year old play, expectations feel suspended as if on a heartbeat the outcome might still go either way.

At pivotal points the audience are spotlit by powerful searchlights or the beam of a single torch. On reflection it feels like an invitation by Shakespeare and also by Bodinetz to look at ourselves and those around us and reflect on what we see. Perhaps there is an invitation to start accepting ourselves- regardless of gender or ethnicity as all being capable of strong and powerful emotions. That does not have to be dangerous when we recognise they can make us protective, nurturing parents, successful and happy in our relationships and productive in our work. It is only when we use labels to divide and diminish that we lessen ourselves and our humanity. Like Othello – male, female or gender neutral we are perfectly imperfect. No more and never any less.

OTHELLO Sat 28 April to Tues 10th July

Images by Jonathon Keenan

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