Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Othello at the Rose Playhouse
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Othello at the Rose Playhouse
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Othello at the Rose Playhouse
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08 Feb REVIEW: Othello at the Rose Playhouse

Shakespeare’s Othello is a tale of greed and lust, of hatred and jealousy, of passion and, ultimately, tragedy. Based on Giovanni Battista Giraldi’s short story, Un Capitano Moro (“A Moorish Captain”), it tells of a Moorish general, Othello, and his ensign Iago, who’s seething that the young Cassio has been promoted ahead of his more experienced self. As envy reigns, the Machiavellian Iago sets out to disgrace Cassio, and plant a seed of doubt about the fidelity of his new wife, Desdemona, in the mind of Othello himself.

Of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello probably continues to have the most relevance in the 21st century, exploring a kaleidoscope of themes that are still topical today, like racism, gender issues, jealousy, and success. Influenced by the tragic death of an intern who died having worked continuously for 72 hours, director Pamela Schermann sought to create a production that asks, ”how much can and should we sacrifice to achieve our career goals?” And, ”what if, in the end, there is nothing left worth fighting for?” They’re questions that millions of city-workers will have asked themselves at one moment or another, shut up inside a battery farm of people sat at computers, playing dirty to get ahead.

To bring these questions to the fore, Schermann transforms the play in a way just short of a dramatic reimagining; more of an intelligent recontextualisation. By placing the play in a boardroom, complete with iPads, suits and after-work drinks, we enter a contemporary business world, which is, in concept, both bold and interesting. Clearly showing the audience in just one glimpse that this Othello is relatable, it remains faithful to the ideas explored in the original play, maintaining significant portions of Shakespeare’s script, complete with his gorgeously dense, lyrical language. The characters and some of the slower passages are pared down, cleverly replaced in parts with technology, resulting in a fast-paced and hugely enjoyable 90 minutes.

Another interesting element of this production is the venue. Just meters from the sites of both the modern and ancient Globe theatres, the Rose Playhouse, Bankside, was one of the first purpose built theatres in London, an Elizabethan construction owned by Henslowe, where Shakespeare and his contemporaries staged their plays. Forgotten about for centuries, the foundations were rediscovered in 1989 during excavations for the area to be transformed into a new office block. With the redevelopment halted, the Rose is now the site of ongoing archaeological excavation, filled with water to preserve it, whilst hosting productions on a balcony overlooking the site. Exposed to the elements, it makes for a chilly yet awe-inspiring location, with blankets and cups of tea for comfort.

Despite such an amazing location, it feels like an unhappy marriage between the venue and the production. There’s something very special and authentic about watching a Shakespeare in the Rose Playhouse, space, language and climate connecting the audience to people on the same spot 400 years ago. But it would have felt infinitely more authentic to have been watching a more traditional Shakespeare production. That’s not to say that the hyper-modern Twitter-generation production doesn’t work; it does. But it would have worked so much better in a shiny, steel, soulless cube like the boardroom this version situates the play inside. It feels almost like this glorious new incarnation of Othello had been dreamt up, crafted and perfected, and then the Rose became available and the production team just couldn’t resist its charm.

Despite a slight lack of emotional engagement, this is an incredibly watchable and understandable adaptation of the tragedy, leaping over the first hurdle for anything written in Elizabethan English that others scarcely clear. As Emilia, Ella Duncan is an unexpected revelation; sassy, sweet and funny, everything from her intonation to her mannerisms suit her character perfectly. With an unusually firm grasp on her character’s psychology, she speaks as if she were speaking modern English, and with an understanding of her lines that makes her infinitely enjoyable to watch.

A simple, creative and intelligent interpretation of the play that gave us the phrase “green eyed monster,” Time Zone Theatre’s Othello is as ambitious as it is inventive, making Shakespeare all the more accessible for generation Skype.

Dates: 3rd – 28th February 2015
Venue: The Rose Playhouse, 56 Park Street
For tickets and information:

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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