Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Not What I Am- Othello Retold, 11th Hour, Nov 27, 2007

 Not What I Am- Othello Retold 
 adapted from William Shakespeare, by The Eleventh Hour
11th Hour, 170 Leicester St, Fitzroy, Nov 27 to  Dec 6, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This interpretation of Othello by The Eleventh Hour is a radical reworking and editing of Shakespeare’s play. Although Iago  (David Tredinnick) remains the primary source of Othello’s (Rodney Afif) escalating doubt and jealousy about his young bride Desdemona (Shelly Lauman), other voices share Iago’s dialogue.

A chorus of cloaked and faceless characters based on the mediaeval charavari (a noisy public humiliation of newly weds), chant and echo, represent a disapproving Venetian community that wants to destabilise the powerful outsider, Othello the Moor. This chorus effectively shares Iago’s destructive and insidious dialogue about lust, revenge, pride and hate.

This retelling is in the most part effective and resonant. The production is atmospheric, intimate and soaked in danger and intrigue. The chorus assists Iago to engineer Othello’s downfall. They creep like a Venetian fog, insinuating their way into Othello’s addled mind and his bedchamber.

This is a sexually charged interpretation of the play. Iago and Amelia (Jane Nolan) writhe and moan in lurid sexual poses, Cassio (Stuart Orr) and Roderigo (Greg Ulfan) wrestle and claw each other while Othello and Desdemona are entwined in lovemaking.

Afif gives his Middle Eastern Moor strength and arrogance. However the dynamic development of his Othello’s fraught emotional journey seems unbalanced, reaching a pitch too early with nowhere to go. Tredinnick simpering, fawning and leering Iago will make your flesh crawl and Nolan’s Amelia is a powerhouse of menacing lust. Her delivery of Shakespeare’s dialogue is particularly potent.

Orr’s Cassio is a raffish fop an Ulfan plays the lovelorn Roderigo with whining histrionics. Lauman’s Desdemona feels like a modern teenager, which clashes at times with the ominous and mediaeval tone of the production.

A dim, golden light (Nik Pajanti) penetrates the delicate, Moorish patterns of the wooden-framed set design (Julie Renton) and bathes the marriage bed, the site of love and murder in filtered morning light. Chanting and an evocative soundscape (Wally Gunn) accentuate the haunting atmosphere.

Anne Thompson’s production isolates Othello, highlighting his “otherness” in a mono-cultural Venice and making him as much a victim of circumstances and politics as Desdemona. The physicality of the performances gives the play a visceral quality not usually present in productions that focus on the words alone.

By Kate Herbert

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