Cambridge Shakespeare, Summer 2004: Cheek by Jowl's Othello at the Arts Theatre

Michael Grosvenor-Myer

Grosvenor-Myer, Michael. "Review of Cambridge Shakespeare, Summer 2004: Cheek by Jowl's Othello at the Arts Theatre". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 12.1-4 <URL:>.

  1. I have always admired Cheek By Jowl and their wonderfully creative director Declan Donnellan. They quoted my Guardian review of Philoctetes in one of their anniversary books and blew up the one of de Musset's Don't Fool With Love outside its West End venue. They haven't been so active of late, and I was sorry to learn that Donnellan has recently jumped aboard the irritating all-male Shakespeare bandwagon. For my views on that trendy fatuity, see EMLS for September 2003; I haven't seen any of the all-female ones that, I read, seem to be proliferating (presumably as some kind of well-intentioned quid pro quo?), but can't say this makes me feel unbearably deprived. However, the Cambridge Arts has always been privileged when it has formed a stop on the company's tour programme, and their Othello was keenly awaited.

  2. It was, to start with the few niggles, a bit slow and teasing-out of every possible nuance, so made for rather a long evening. And some of Donnellan's ideas seem to have passed the date on the package. The remote-control tortures worked fine in his magnificent National Theatre Fuente Ovejuna all those years ago (still remembered as the most duende-full production of my 65+ years of theatregoing), but this time, when a guy upstage-R made with a dagger and another downstage-L clutched his tummy, said "AAArrrgh" and fell down, there was perhaps just a teeny bit of a sense of been-there-done-that.

  3. But there were, as you would expect, many things to value and cherish. Nonso Anozie, impressively dominant throughout, six-foot-six and broad in proportion, lifting his lovely, diminutive Desdemona at arm's length above his head by the throat, where she kicked and waved her arms like a demented puppet or an insect impaled on a pin, was a magic moment. So, too, was the flying-in-the-face-of-the-text of Caroline Martin and her exquisite Emilia, Jaye Griffiths, flipping into helpless schoolgirl giggles at Othello's abuse. I've never seen this relationship better conveyed.

  4. There were many fine touches in the little businesses, like the sense of underlying tension in the constant anxious glancing at wristwatches on lines like, "Myself will straight aboard". An excellent supporting cast too, in which Matthew Douglas's Roderigo, David Hobbs's Brabantio, Michael Gardiner's Lodovico and Duke impressed particularly. Ryan Kiggell was an interestingly wimpish Cassio, paying Bianca to give him a good spanking with the handkerchief in her hand, which he then put to an unmentionable use, and right out of his depth in an impressive Greek-dancing drinking scene. Jonny Phillips's Iago was properly pivotal, but sometimes so laid-back in the bluff insidiousness as to be a bit hard to hear.

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