You are presented with a film noir smoky bar, where an American singer (Rudina Hatipi) in black, wearing a large feather head dress sings the words, ‘be good to your man,’ to piano jazz, in front of a bar – a 1940s bar. Her cheeky lyrics get you warmed up. The mood is calm yet, dim lit with hanging lamps and coloured fabrics to divide up the space that is cleverly devised by Libby Todd. Straight in, enters Roderigo and the Manchunian accent – Iago. Roderigo’s black and white spats first grab the left side audiences’ attention, and the lighting of a cigarette grabs everyone else’s. The smell and atmosphere is soon hazy and nicotine stains the room giving off the almost gangster impression and film noir scent. Although atmospheric, I fear a couple of members from the audience may not have agreed with this as they coughed away.
Roderigo (Max Wilson) plays a hopeless and broken nosed lap dog victim to Iago that will try anything to win the affections of Desdemona, whilst Manchester born, Peter Lloyd, produces an Iago that we would not have expect. Iago is a big role and the pioneer, some would say, behind the success of Othello as a play. Against a cast of different accents to his own, it could have thrown some of the audiences’ taste, however, I would gladly vouch to say the opposite. An accent from Manchester shows a grittier, hard-working man from the outside that has travelled south, to get up the ladder. There is a rogue like attribute to him and this distinctive accent gives him that edge. As we know, Iago is the driving force as his plotting and scheming makes everyone troubled, deluded, confused, irrational and killed. However, there was something deeply missing and flawed and that was a more evil Iago. No doubt he comes across selfish and strategises to his own end, but his soliloquies to the crowd were such like any Joe Bloggs impressing a girl in a bar with a story. There was no sense of a “green-eyed monster” and the pressing Northern grit may not have been enough.
Brabantio (Andrew Lewis) chuckles broodingly in a naughty scene opening as womanizing the singer who fidgets with his suspenders swearing off the ‘Moor’ and angered by his daughter’s betrayal. Andrew’s character is the first to expose deceit where his words are brash and full of woeful noise that we almost pity him. Although, a father that has just lost his daughter, he is soon transformed into background shuffling present in most scenes with no knowledge of the entrapments of Iago and as a mere hotel manager.
Cassio (Fergal Phillips,) good looking as they must be for such a scape goat character plays a great ‘drunk’ who stutters as he asserts he isn’t that at all. This hilarious scene brings the audience into a past time of when they had been happily intoxicated and surrounded by likewise merry friends. Soon, this is swallowed up with a knife in a fast fight scene between Cassio, Roderigo, and Montano (James Lawrence). There is more blood spill in the final act between Roderigo, Cassio and secretively Iago. These macho physical brawls are mighty with the actors’ speed and jumpiness thrown onto an intimate audience only a few inches away.
Bianca (Jade Matthew) is an attractive, blonde bystander, dressed in a French maid costume that is unfortunately naïve of love and Cassio’s true feelings towards her. She is stuck in the middle of it all and knows barely anything.
Othello (Stefan Adegbola) on the other hand is the big man. He displays a well spoken, charming, straight postured, wise gentleman that is aware of all the challenges of being black. Despite a turmoil past he has been restored and awarded a high ranking military title that Desdemona falls in love with. Yet the moment, Iago utters the word ‘indeed’ and questions Desdemona’s purity, Othello descend into madness, spitting out insanity. This follows with a loud slap on her (Gillian Saker’s,) face, which is powerful and unexpected as the audience gasps. Lodovico (Sam Blythe) stands in for truth, law and justice executing his moral condemnation of Othello’s actions instantly. A much loved Othello soon shows signs of incompetence, nor the ability to think rationally or lead his men as he weeps a ‘misery’ mind, full of dark and nasty thoughts of death all too easily swayed by a cuckolding Iago. His respected image is unredeemable.
Gillian is a shining star. She is graciously stunning with beautiful ginger locks that bounce across Othello’s face that we immensely adore. At the outset, one is unsure of the lover’s passion for each other that begins in a political argument with her father yet, as the play ensues – the lover’s happiness is potent. This happiness is soon destroyed with the many mentions of Cassio’s name and requests for her husband to speak to him revealing a vulnerable child like Desdemona that also losses the plot, as conniving Iago carries her in his arms, attending to her like an upset babe. Once Othello loses his cool, so does his passive wife who accepts the fatal conclusion. Neither of them are innocent and pure anymore. It’s a devastating shocker of scene as he attempts to kill her the first time. Watching Othello strangle her as she is still stands and even more remorseful when he finally does by placing his hand over her mouth. It sheds a tear and Shakespeare was clever for pointing out the human condition and all its foolish fragility.
Emilia (Gemma Stroyan) should not go unnoticed. This pretty voluptuous character is quiet at the beginning whose un-dynamic relationship with Iago is paralleled with Desdemona’s marriage presented in a separation of coffee tables. She slouches and perplexes over her husband’s clear lack of attention, as he carelessly reads the tabloid paper. Nonetheless, she comes in full force in the final act, as an established ambassador not for feminism, but equality for both women and men. She ensures that the truth and her husband’s deadly agendas are exposed to the Duke (Alistair Scott) and Lodovico. Gemma is a talented woman and it is a shame we didn’t get to see more of her. She does well to show her loyalty and sisterly love for her lady as she lies also betrayed and bloodied stating all she needs to for Iago to go justly punished and for Othello to persuade him to take his life.
Orangutan’s first production has done well to present itself with Othello, a favourite Shakespearean tragedy that everyone can emphathise with given the perverse nature of jealousy and deceit.
The direction, use of white silhouettes and fabrics gives a softness feminine touch to Desdemona’s dressing room representing her chastity, perhaps, and gives an individual voice to Othello before he offers Desdemona to heaven.
Film Noir has a dark murderous theme that bodes well in vintage 1940s attire as designed by Eleanor Bull. Dapper suits, smart skirts and dresses are also a sign of class as we compare Othello’s sartorial style and Iago lack of it. As observations go, we see particularly in Othello, Desdemono, Roderigo, and Iago, that they are striped of their jackets and dresses demonstrating the striping of superficiality and dignity with closer inspection of bare truths.
Background piano jazz and composer, Piers Sherwood- Roberts, gives us an era and ambience to bear in mind. We take note that the first time Othello tries to strangles his wife and his right hand man, Iago, there is a tonal baseline denoting Othello’s need for honesty and assurance. His lunatic mind has driven him irrational and ill tempered, and this electronic string note lingers in to inform us of the eventuality of mayhem.
Given that this was a first time production, of young, fresh and good looking cast members of talent, in a unmistakably popular Shakespearean play, Rebeckah Fortune’s interpretation, has done exceedingly well in making use of limited space and little resources for a thoroughly thought out play filled of subtle stylistic compositions and grandeur movements.