Othello, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 6th March 2004.

Kate Wilkinson
Sheffield Hallam University

Wilkinson, Kate. "Review of Othello, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 6th March 2004". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.1 (May, 2004) 15.1-5 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-1/revwilk.html>.

Directed by Gregory Doran. With Mark Lockyer (Roderigo), Antony Sher (Iago), Ken Bones (Brabantio/Gratiano), Sello Maake ka-Ncube (Othello), Justin Avoth (Cassio), Clifford Rose (Duke of Venice), Vincent Brimble (Lodovico), Edward Clayton (Senator), Lisa Dillon (Desdemona), Charles Abomeli (Montano), Amanda Harris (Emilia), Nathalie Armin (Bianca), Viss Elliot (Lady), Barry Aird, Peter Bramhill, Jonathan Duff, Paul O'Mahony (Soldiers).

  1. Doran's new production of Othello opens to an entirely black stage. There are two black towers at the back of the empty thrust to the left and right. Apparently opaque, the tower to the right becomes transparent to reveal characters on two levels in the interior of a house as Roderigo and Iago call Brabantio down. The production has a 1930's feel to it: those initially chasing Othello look like gangsters complete with guns. There is a strong sense of the empire too, with military costumes and an exotic setting reminiscent of the British Raj. Although the set is colourful, the costumes themselves range from shades of grey to black and white. Only the female characters wear any kind of colour. The stage itself changes from black lighting in the opening scenes to yellows that suggest the idea of being somewhere exotic. As the tensions heat up, fans suspended above the stage become apparent increasing the sense of heat and humidity. This use of props and especially of light demonstrates how colour is important to the production, by creating a close and oppressive atmosphere, above and beyond the race of Othello. Tim Mitchell's lighting suggests that the tragedy takes place in a 24-hour period, as it starts black in the night and progresses through the sun of the day to conclude once again in blackness. Even the night in which Cassio is made drunk is performed in slightly dimmed, dusky lighting rather than in darkness suggesting night. Meanwhile, the military feel of the play is heightened by the set, which suggests an army outpost or fortress complete with chicken wire fence to the rear of the stage.

  2. Sello Maake ka-Ncube's Othello begins as a confident, assured and laid-back character. His beautiful, deep, melodic voice with the hint of an African accent helps to suggest this, and really enchants the audience as he describes the stories he told Desdemona in Act One. His character exudes dignity and authority, but descends into a kind of tribal madness in his jealousy with waving arms and rubbing of his head. ka-Ncube really shows this madness to be an illness as he expresses Othello's anguish physically in palsied movements that increasingly become like those of the animal that Iago mocks him as being. Lisa Dillon as Desdemona also gives a strong performance, although is overshadowed by Amanda Harris' Emilia. Although she is initially being presented as a kind of femme fatale, Emilia's rage and loyalty to Desdemona after her murder are very moving.

  3. Despite being called the Tragedy of Othello, though, this is very much the story of Iago. Antony Sher's character is at the centre of the production; he is easily the star of the show and the main tool in making the production as powerful as it is. Sher brings a lot of humour to the performance and breaks down the wall between the stage and auditorium, directly appealing to the audience and confiding in them as they laugh at his victim's gullibility. Despite the humour, however, Sher's Iago is full of violence, from the moment he enters fighting with Roderigo to that where he practically strangles his wife with 'affection' and eventually to his murder of Emilia. Not only is Iago violent, but he invests others with his violence. This is particularly noticeable with Othello as Iago's relentless suggestions bring out violent physical movements in the Moor, such as stamping of feet, as Iago encourages Othello to murder Desdemona.

  4. What Sher's Iago is particularly brilliant at is the implication of the audience in the tragic events of the play. Iago implicates them by drawing them in through humour as his plans become more and more malevolent. The flashing of his torch into the audience while 'looking' for Cassio's murderer is inspired.

  5. The production concludes with a circular drape of a white mosquito net over Othello's marital bed, lit bright white. The net creates a wall between the stage and the auditorium that suggests that the audience is intruding on something very intimate. The bright lighting on an otherwise dark stage suggests ideas about light and dark, Desdemona and Othello, white and black that have not necessarily been apparent throughout. The play reaches its crazy and roaring conclusion through the momentum of jealousy, ending in a final look from Sher that reveals his delight in his activities and once more implicates the audience in them.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.

© 2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).