William Shakespeare English Touring Theatre Oldham Coliseum 23 October 2018 to 27 October 2018
ETT’s Othello comes trailing golden opinions from its brief tour and London run in 2017. This time the major roles are all re-cast, with some of the actors at the outset of their careers and others highly experienced.
The staging by Richard Twyman is sparse but none the worse for that – fashionable fluorescent tubes inside a metal frame being the main theme. There are a few attempts to get down with the kids by introducing bawdy chants and lively songs that have little to do with the script (also a fashionable gimmick).
The casting of a professional-debut Othello (Victor Oshin) and a young Desdemona (Kitty Archer) certainly helps the attempt to relate to a young audience. They could be Romeo and Juliet, and maybe that makes the transition from ecstatic youthful infatuation to murderous jealousy more believable.
That’s what the play is about, after all. The production plays up the idea that Othello is (apparently) a Muslim convert to Christianity (or the Venetian version of it), and implies that he rejects that badge quite early on – not because his mind is being poisoned but because the misogynistic barbarism of a supposedly Christian culture has got to him.
There’s obviously plenty of misogynistic barbarism in the play itself, though whether Shakespeare thought of that as a specifically Christian characteristic is more doubtful. Most of the concept-raising and gimmickry is before the interval, however, and after it the play really gathers pace and menace as it should.
Victor Oshin and Kitty Archer are perfectly good, but the intriguing portrayals come from Paul McEwan as Iago and Kelly Price as Emilia. This was definitely an interpretation where the mind of Iago was the lynchpin of the whole show. McEwan makes him far from a conventional slimeball, but an outwardly easygoing, dutiful guy (northern accent, even) who’s inwardly a hugely clever psychopath. It was seriously creepy, though the voice had some indistinctness … maybe part of the interpretation.
Kelly Price – a superb performer last seen hereabouts in Aspects of Love at Hope Mill Theatre – was outstanding as Emilia. It is crucial that her testimony – despite being a woman in a man’s world – at the end of the play should be believed and that belief believable. She created a woman of strength and self-awareness – the only admirable human being on the stage.