Othello presented at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 27th September 2011

Claire Warden
University of Lincoln

Claire Warden, "Review of Othello presented at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 27th September 2011." EMLS 16.1 (2012): 17. http://purl.org/emls/16-1/revothe.htm

Directed by Daniel Evans. Design by Morgan Large. Lighting design by Lucy Carter. Sound design by Alex Baranowski. With Dominic West (Iago), Clarke Peters (Othello), Lily James (Desdemona), Alexandra Gilbreath (Emilia), Gwilym Lee (Cassio), Leigh McDonald (Bianca), Ian Barritt (Duke/Clown), Brodie Ross (Roderigo), Luciano Dodero (Montano), Colin George (Brabantio/Gratiano), Rhodri Miles (Lodovico), Josh Hart (Senator/Gentleman/Musician), Ben Lee (Attendant/Messenger/Gentleman/Musician), Andrew Thompson (Attendant/Sailor/Gentleman/Musician).

  1. It might have been the celebrity leads that attracted the audience to the Crucible’s version of Othello or the hope that Dominic West and Clarke Peters (stars of the ground-breaking HBO series, The Wire) might transform Shakespeare’s tragedy into a contemporary analysis of drug runners and self-destructive anti-heroes. Yet, at first glance there might seem to be more differences than similarities between this version of Othello and The Wire; the former was, in many ways, visually traditional with codpieces and doublets, and retained a real reverence for the unabridged script. In fact David Simon, writer of the challenging televisual study of the Baltimore streets partly rejects the Shakespearian stage as a model, suggesting instead that The Wire looks to an earlier Greek tradition, creating “doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality” (Alvarez, 384).

  2. However, what is particularly interesting in this case is that Daniel Evans’ almost universally acclaimed production was infused with a similar Hellenic sense that the events were orchestrated by unseen ‘hands’. Of course West’s scheming Iago, his Yorkshire accent simultaneously speaking to the local audience while bringing an unusual comic timbre and making broader comments about class, engineered Othello’s downfall, and Peters’ Othello, beginning as an amiable, charismatic storyteller before degenerating into the tormented victim, certainly blamed Iago who, in the final scene, stood frustratingly silent, framed by guards. However, it was those non-choreographed moments, those events that occurred outside of Iago’s control that really stood out in this performance: the discovery of the handkerchief, the appearance of Bianca, the late arrival of Emilia in the final scene.

  3. The sense that the narrative was progressing unregulated by human action was further augmented by the noticeable pacing choices. The post-interval conversation between Desdemona and Emilia (played by Lily James and Alexandra Gilbreath respectively, both almost outshining their better-known male co-stars) with the Clown began even before the auditorium lights had fully gone out or the audience members had taken their seats, thereby increasing the momentum of the second half from the off (3.4). Entrances and exits throughout were performed with alarming speed. The storm scene was dramatically introduced with thunder and running figures, made indistinct by the gloomy lighting and shapeless costumes. The moments when this quick pace was interrupted or checked stood out all the more: Brabantio’s proclamation that “she [Desdemona] has deceived her father and may thee” (1.2.289), Desdemona’s sombre song (4.3) and Othello’s realisation of the consequence of his murder (5.2). In the final scene when Othello challenged Iago to explain himself, he was unwilling to oblige. Yet, coupled with the rapidity of action, West’s performance seemed to infuse this unwillingness with an inability to truly justify himself. In a way, he seemed to experience the same sort of incredulity as Othello; how did this sequence of events really progress?

  4. The overwhelming sense of fate taking charge was further augmented by the set design. Just as for most of the characters in The Wire, there was no escape. The Crucible’s beautifully crafted thrust stage lends itself to this sort of reading, surrounded on three sides by an audience that is close enough to rest its feet on the edge of the playing space. But, in this instance, the sense of entrapment was accentuated by the high wall across the back and by the ubiquitous tiled floor that was turned into a celebratory drinking den for Cassio (played with great subtlety by Gwilym Lee) with the use of a few barrels and into Desdemona’s chamber with the addition of a bed and white gauze. Despite the suggestion of numerous different settings, the characters had little chance to break out of this intimate, enclosed playing space. Again, here was a visual emblem of fate, of hidden forces, of an invisible yet palpable ‘orchestrator’. 

  5. Read through David Simon’s explanation of The Wire, the characters in the Crucible’s Othello seemed to be part of a “rigged game” from the start. Just as in the HBO series, individuals appeared to have some ability to change, respond to or choreograph certain moments but, in the end, the consequences of circumstance seemed to take over, so that even the scheming Iago was presented as a ‘pawn’ in a larger ‘game’. While Lodovico accused Iago, “this is thy work” (5.2.361), this production did not, in the end, suggest anything so straightforward. As on the streets of Baltimore, victims and victors, heroes and villains (such as they are) were manufactured by unseen forces.

Works Cited



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

© 2012-, Annaliese Connolly and Matthew Steggle (Editors, EMLS).