Friday, 15 July 2016

Othello, July 14, 2016 ***1/2

By William Shakespeare, by Bell Shakespeare 
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne, until July 23, 2016 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert  on July 14, 2016
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published online, Herald Sun Arts, Fri July 15, 2016 & in print on Mon July 18, 2016. KH
Yalin Ozucelik, Ray Chong Nee_ credit_Daniel Boud
 A memorable villain is clever, wicked and alluring and Shakespeare’s Iago is all of those things, and more.

Othello, played by Ray Chong Nee in Peter Evans’ sleek, modern production, is the Moor of Venice, an African general who, although a foreigner, is highly valued for his military prowess by the Venetian Duke (Huw McKinnon) and governing senate.

When the restrained and upright Othello secretly marries Desdemona (Elizabeth Nabben), he faces the wrath of her father Brabantio (James Lugton), a senator, and also unwittingly attracts the malicious but disguised vengeance of his military ensign, Iago (Yalin Ozucelik), who is furious at being passed over as Othello’s second-in-command.

Although Othello is the titular role, Iago’s villainy and manipulation of other characters is pivotal in steering the increasingly jealous Othello to the ultimate horror of murdering Desdemona. (No need for a spoiler alert for such a famous scene.)

Chong Nee is at his best in the first half of Evan’s production, when his Othello is self-possessed, confident and oblivious to all but his military command and his untainted love for Desdemona.

Othello’s downfall is his unfounded trust in Iago whose betrayal Othello cannot discern and who he repeatedly describes as “honest Iago”.

From our contemporary view, Othello is the victim of obvious and hateful racism when, in his absence, Iago and others call him “an old, black ram” with a “sooty bosom”, a “lascivious Moor” who “is making the beast with two backs” with the pure, milky white Desdemona.

Chong Nee’s performance is less effective in the later scenes when Othello succumbs to “the green-eyed monster” of his misguided jealousy and his escalating, demented rage appears, at times, too melodramatic and not totally credible.

Ozucelik is achingly charismatic as Iago, embodying this smiling, dissembling villain who manipulates not only Othello, but also gullible, lovelorn Roderigo (Edmund Lembke-Hogan), protective Brabantio, trusting Cassio (Michael Wahr) and even Iago’s own wife, Emilia (Joanna Downing).

Ozucelik’s Iago is cunning, agile and lithe, capering gleefully from one damaging deception to another, revelling in his own power and revealing, through snide and witty asides or colourfully venomous speeches that celebrate Shakespeare’s poetic power, his vicious plot to destroy Othello.
 Yalin Ozucelik, credit_Daniel Boud
Nabben’s Desdemona is more worldly and modern than is common for the modest maidenly character, but she brings a steely determination to this young woman who bravely confronts her changed husband until she comes to fear his inexplicable wrath.

Lugton brings dignity to Brabantio, Wahr is aptly naive as Cassio, and Lembke-Hogan channels Roderigo’s boyish obsession with Desdemona.

Evans’ sets his inventive production on an empty stage surrounded by monumental, industrial, concrete-like pillars (Michael Hankin), and atmospheric lighting (Paul Jackson) tinges the entire space with dim, mossy green light that reflects Othello’s green-eyed jealousy.

The only additional set is a rectangular table on wheels that provides an elevated platform in some scenes or a war room table in others, and its swift mobility gives a sense of urgency and unpredictability.

While there is unevenness in the acting, this production captures some of the emotional intensity of Othello and Evans delivers an imaginative version of Shakespeare’s play.

By Kate Herbert

Desdemona -Elizabeth Nabben
Duke/ Montano -Huw McKinnon
Roderigo - Edmund Lembke-Hogan
Brabantio /Lodovico -James Lugton
Cassio - Michael Wahr
Emilia-Joanna Downing
Bianca - Alice Keohavong

Director - Peter Evans
Set & costumes - Michael Hankin
Lighting - Paul Jackson
Fight choreography - Nigel Poulton
 Cast of Othello

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