Thursday 22 February 2018

Review: A flawless and confident Shakespeare

Theatre: Othello, Abbey Theatre, Dublin

The contemporary version of Othello playing at The Abbey.
The contemporary version of Othello playing at The Abbey.

Katy Hayes

The Abbey space is used to great effect in its first ever production of Othello: there are two banks of 24 seats on the stage, and the actors occasionally use the auditorium. Immediately there is dynamism and energy, but also intimacy.

There are two mysteries at the heart of the play: firstly, why does Iago choose to poison Othello towards his new bride? How do you explain what Coleridge termed his "motiveless malignancy"?

Marty Rea's Iago is hard and devious, relishing only his evil plots. The scene where his wife passes him Desdemona's handkerchief is carefully played for basic misogyny; he is disgusted by kissing her. Also, the racism lines are given much emphasis.

American actor Peter Macon plays the black general with fantastic command, his bass voice and lush physicality filling the space. And what is racism other than motiveless malignancy?

And secondly, why does Othello fall for it? This is harder to figure. A man of action, he is simply outmanoeuvred by the intellectually devious Iago. But is that good enough? His plea that he "loved not wisely but too well" doesn't exactly convince.

Macon's performance emphasises the physical reaction to the emotional poison he is being fed. The moor is not processing in his brain, but rather in his body. His final plea of "Why?" is truly moving.

Riccardo Hernandez's design is first rate. Simultaneously simple and epic, it creates a canvas for Joan O'Clery's elegant contemporary costumes including off-the-shoulder styles straight off the catwalk from this summer's collections.

The device of the audience being in on the plot, while the characters are unaware, creates much rueful humour. Shakespeare sure knew how to work a crowd.

Director Joe Dowling steers the tonal shifts perfectly as the plot thickens and darkens. A spirited Liz Fitzgibbon plays the late arriving Bianca as a Dublin trollop, thus cutting the tension with a good belly laugh just before the stabbing begins in earnest.

This production oozes with confidence.

Irish Independent

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