Review: Othello @ The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

I’m always grateful to live in a city as culturally rich as London, with its multitude of galleries, arts centres and theatres. This week I got the chance to see Ellen McDougall’s production of Othello, a play I am studying for my English Literature A-Level, at the Globe’s candlelit indoor theatre, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. For anyone that doesn’t know the play, it tells the story of Othello, a black soldier who, with his military achievements, is generally accepted in Venetian society despite his race. However that all changes when he marries Desdemona, a young white noblewoman, and his ‘loyal’ ensign Iago begins to plant seeds of doubt in his friend’s mind about Desdemona’s relationship with Othello’s lieutenant Cassio. Exploring the destructive power of jealousy, as well as the racial and gender stereotypes of the Jacobean era when Shakespeare was writing, the tragedy is still as relevant now as it was 400 years ago, as was highlighted in McDougall’s adaption. This updated version saw Cassio played by a woman, Joanna Horton, making the issue of male jealousy and cuckoldry seem less relevant as it was in the original. The casting of a non-white woman, Thalissa Teixeira, as Iago’s wife Emilia also made race seem less important as a theme too, as there was no longer the sense that Othello was an outsider in his society, nor did it appear that Iago’s crimes were racially motivated. Teixeira put in a good performance in the role of the put-upon wife, and her final empowering speech provided a feminist energy to the production, as did Natalie Klamar’s spirited portrayal of Desdemona who is typically played as more of a passive victim.
Egyiawan and Spruell
Sam Spruell’s depiction of Iago was suitably psychopathic, perhaps making his one of the stand-out performances within the whole show. Through the combination of Spruell’s boisterous on-stage antics, Kurt Egyiawan’s breakdown as the jealous Othello and the ingenious comic touch of the codpieces that every male character wore as part of Fly Davis’ costumes, McDougall really got the audience questioning what it is to be a man, particularly in such a patriarchal setting as Jacobean Venice. I found the musical choices within the production slightly strange. Lana Del Rey’s Video Games was a reoccurring feature of the play’s soundtrack, and although it at first seemed at odds with the historical setting, it’s haunting lyrics seemed surprisingly complementary to the plot and the doomed love of the tragic hero and his wife, with other strange musical choices, including Katy Perry, Britney Spears and PJ Harvey, putting a modern twist on a classic tragedy. This was the first time I’ve been to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, but I thought that it was the perfect setting for this particular production. Intimate and candlelit, it gave the play an almost claustrophobic feel, with the cast often sitting right up close to the audience. I believe that every visitor to London should try and catch a production at the Globe at some point, as it is a great experience, unlike a trip to any other theatre. I’d therefore recommend this memorable, unique performance to anyone who does fancy giving it a go, as I’m sure you won’t regret it!


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