Shakespeare’s Othello was performed in York Royal Theatre by twelve amazing actors and actresses directed with such virtuosity by Mark France; famous for other Shakespearean adaptations such as: Macbeth, Henry V and VI, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing and Romeo and Juliet. The plot remained loyal to the original play apart from some modern sparkles, which revealed the director’s personal style. In other words, it was the decision of dressing the performers with 21st-century clothes, and playing electrical interludes the elements that gave this innovative mood to the classic play. The combination of these modernities with the sustenance of the actual Shakespearean dialogues gave to the play a diachronic value and placed its grandeur in a contemporary context.
Also, the minimal use of scenery gave the opportunity for the audience to focus on the acting skills of the performers, who succeeded in transiting the agony, the passion, the malevolence and the dementia to the extreme. Especially, Dermot Daly (Othello), Katie Macintyre (Desdemona) and Jamie Smelt (Iago) reached the peak of everyone’s expectations. Remarkable, it was, as well Peter Watts’ (Cassio) performance that managed to depict Cassio’s plutocratic, arrogant and sexist characteristics as an absorbed member into the corrupted society of 17th-century Venice.
In addition it was interesting how the costumes varied from thick coats, formal shoes, ties and smart dresses for the superior classes, to jeans, sport shoes, t-shirts and monochromatic patterns for the lower ones. Clever, also, was the stage manager’s and composer’s idea to include an animated display and sound of running water, making the atmosphere familiar to the Venetian canals. Also, the intensity of the first scene, almost surreal, where aristocrats interacted with prostitutes through strongly sexual and ecstatic movements and accompanied by an underground-inspired techno prelude, made clear Venice’s immoral lifestyle.
Othello was greatly performed with the right primary naïve, gullible and guileless and the later misogynist, vengeful and primitive mood he deserved. Furthermore, Desdemona functioned like a contrasting factor to the male characters showing an extremely innocent and angelic behaviour. In particular, the song she sang a few minutes before her upcoming death sounded like a lullaby before going to “sleep”. It was like she knew what was about to happen; nevertheless she did not want to leave her marital bed even at that moment Othello was driven crazy.
After all, what is life without the one you devoted yourself to and promised eternal love? Othello made a mistake and he paid it with the murder of his wife by his own hand and finally with his suicide. Everyone else, who as well had taken part in the unpleasant incidents ended dead. Which is then the point that Shakespeare wants to make clear to the audience? In my opinion, lying and envy exist within human nature and they cannot be avoided as long as there are social discriminations in the world, which bring psychological effects upon people and urge them to cause unhappiness to others who may live more beneficially than they do.
All in all York Shakespeare Project excelled in bringing us this sell out performance of one of the bard’s greatest tragedies. Not to be missed.