Saturday 13 September 2014

Othello @ The Drayton Arms

As one of Shakespeare's most direct and lucid plays (narratively speaking at least), as well as its still relevant themes of manipulation and racism, Othello is ripe for reinterpretation and adaptation.

This production from Clatterhouse Theatre, directed by Eliot Langsdon, envisages Venice as a present day London casino.  In this seedy underworld, omniscient croupier Iago manipulates his manager Othello, whilst Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca are a trio of vampish jazz-singing femme fatales - Lynchian objects of desire.  It's a setting that heightens the theme of corruption, Iago gambling with the hearts of others.  And with its techno soundtrack, this is a modern and original take on Shakespeare.

It's a shame, then, that the characterisation is so flat.  The opening scenes feel a little confused as the plot settles into the setting, the characters fail to excite, and the acting is plagued with a lack of clarity when delivering Shakespeare's lines - a crime worse than cheating at poker.  Within this, Felicity McCormack's Desdemona initially stands out, speaking her lines with lucidity and projection.

Eventually the production hits its stride and settles into a dramatic rhythm, particularly in the second half, offering a stylish and tense thriller.  The strong-willed Emilia (Kate Cooper) and the bumbling Roderigo (Max Upton) are especially well-considered characters.

Mostly, things pick up with Ben Kavanagh's Iago, the other actors forced to rise to his level.  Though initially worried that this baby-faced actor could succeed as the snake-tongued villain, this was in fact a very clever piece of casting - his Iago lives up to the moniker "honest Iago", a man you would never suspect.  It's in his fourth wall breaking asides and monologues that he reveals his true eccentric self, offering comedy, charm and a deliciously clipped vocal delivery.  His is a Machiavellian, perhaps even psychopathic, villain you can't help but love.

The play may be titled Othello, but it's Iago who time and again proves to be the more interesting character.  As such, despite its flaws, this production delivers a fine adaptation of the core play.


Watch: Othello runs at the Drayton Arms Theatre until the 27th September.