Dunstan Playhouse, Tue Nov 18
State Theatre Company’s 2014 theatre season reaches its climax with the staging of Othello, William Shakespeare’s great tragedy. Somewhat aptly placed in a contemporary, military setting, it brings the brutality of violence, “the evil that men do”, into sharp relief. It is within a Cypriot theatre of war that the audience witnesses the Moor of Venice’s ultimate unravelling at the hands of the duplicitous Iago. Of equal import, perhaps more so, is the tragedy that befalls the articulate, confident and completely innocent Desdemona. None of the major characters are to emerge unscathed from this dreadful tale.
Hazem Shammas and Ashton Malcolm, as Othello and Desdemona respectively, are compelling and passionate in both their love and their despair. Renato Musolino’s Iago, the scheming force behind the treachery, is a believable rogue. The role calls for a balance of out-and-out evil and convincing deceit in just about equal measure, and Musolino manages skillfully. It is not incongruous to believe that he has all of his pawns exactly where he wants them. Elena Carapetis is a strong presence as Emilia, striving to assert herself in a brutish, male-dominated environment. By way of contrast, she shares the play’s most touching scene when Emilia and Desdemona spend some intimate, lyrical moments together on the eve of their undoing. James Smith, Taylor Wiese, Chris Pitman and Charles Mayer are all worthy in their roles, some multiple.
The technical aspects of this production are, as is to be expected, all top notch. The sets, costumes, sound and lighting all play a significant part in creating the various scenes and augmenting the storytelling. The result is memorable. The modern situation of this play provides some fascinating freshness, and it is done without once demeaning or diluting this classic work.
There is little stressing of the oft-cited theme of “fear of the other” to be found here, nor are there many additional diversions from the central issues. As an exposition on manipulation, jealousy and rage, however, this Othello is pretty much spot on.
Shakespeare’s words need little help in their efforts to tell a good tale. This is part of the reason his 400-year-old plays hold their own today. This adaptation’s inflections and physical nuance, designed to bring these words into contemporary focus, generally work. On occasion, some of the lines are perhaps played for laughs more than they might, and some of the more overt non-verbal communication removes desirable notions of subtlety. Both serve to unnecessarily relieve the building tension. Regardless of these minor issues, Director Nescha Jelk has brought a most powerful and entertaining production to the Adelaide stage.
Othello continues at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, at various times until Sun Nov 30.
by David Robinson