There are so many things to learn from Shakespeare. But Grassroots’ Siobhan Daly alludes to one of the most important lessons – the human soul and its fragility – in her production of Othello at the Leicester Square Theatre. With subtle sounds orchestrated by Tom Barnes, simple lights directed by Andy Peregrine and rich coloured fabrics that instill Venetian nobility and imagination by Rachael Vaughan and Suzi Lombardelli, much vision and craft can flourish in such intimate settings.
Nari Blair-Mangat’s dramatic illustration of a young and good Othello tarnished by eating the fruits of Iago’s (James Alexandrou) words and tempting concoctions drive him into a pit of insane hell. Alexandrou’s plays a cool-under-pressure Iago sure of his deeds and intentions under a looming red light as he softly and slowly quotes Iago’s most famous soliloquys. He manages to retain east London characteristics as Eastenders’ Martin Fowler yet with keeping his boyish attributes at bay he successfully plays the most dangerous character. Iago is without a doubt a favorite villain not only for his Machiavelli cunningness and power to control the fate of feeble innocents but his undeniable tendency to make an audience question human evils and capability; can we plant the seed of manipulation to take life including one’s own?
Blair-Mangat’s Othello however, is extraordinary. He is the most aggressive and maddest hothead but this does not put him at a disadvantage. Valiant and noble as the ‘moor’ must be, this lighthearted and loving husband is a sweet honeymoon bloom whose fortune is undermined by his naivety and gullibility. Blair-Mangat’s portrayal highlights an insecurity silently killing Othello as he tells the audience, ‘she loved me for the dangers I had pass’d, and I loved her that she did pity them.’
If Shakespeare were alive today this would be how he wanted it to be. Iago the frighteningly clever psychopath and Othello the easily swayed captain who regresses into a sickly and mentally unstable maniac. One may even say that Blair-Mangat’s Othello takes on another shade, a paranoid husband who believes he does not deserve the love from Desdemona, (Annabel Bates) the Venetian senator’s daughter.
Bates’ displays a pitiful and cherubic Desdemona whose unfortunate simplicity makes her submissively obedient to her jealous lover. Roderigo, (Adam Blampied) is Iago’s sad sideline but Cassio, (Boris Mitkov) is the complete antithesis as the handsome charming soldier who regards Othello highly.
Emily Jane Kerr was most notable for her embodiment of Emilia in the final scene showing the audience what a truthful best friend looks like. And Jim Conway’s version of Brabantio is ruthless. You would not want to mess with him nor his sword.
Shakespeare theatre is not dramatic unless its makes an audience engaged, gasping and introspecting the human condition and Daly’s Othello effectively does this. Othello can be produced in various ways but Grassroots ‘re-vitalised, re-imagined and re-examined’ work warrants a position in the West End as part of Shakespeare’s legacy, which so happens to take place on his 450th birthday.