Film noir, with its jealous loyalties, back-alley stabbings and shady hotels, is not a bad setting for Shakespeare’s Othello.
This production, the first from West London’s Orangutan productions, takes a play of lust and revenge, set by Shakespeare on a background of warring Turkey and Italy, and translates it to the speakeasies and boudoirs of a Hollywood crime drama.
Riverside Studios’ intimate space keeps the action immediate and vivid. From the front row, we could see the tears on Desdemona’s face in the final acts, and the space feels apt for the growing claustrophobia of Othello’s paranoia.
…Stefan Adegbola, as Othello, had a strong presence…
The adaptation is a largely successful one – Peter Lloyd’s Iago fits neatly into the role of a fast-talking, fast-dealing criminal, while Gilian Saker and Gemma Stroyan as Desdemona and Iago’s wife Emilia play to their roles as women who are at first ignorant of the corruption of the men’s world and are finally horrified and ruined by it.
Stefan Adegbola, as Othello, had a strong presence and his earnestness helped make clear the Iago-Othello dynamic; that of a man with no loyalty, and of a man with such trust in chivalric honour that he doubts his wife, rather than his best friend.
…the period-appropriate furniture and costumes added to the atmosphere…
The atmosphere was hampered a little by frequent scene changes, but the sets were convincing and the period-appropriate furniture and costumes added to the atmosphere.
One charge that could be levelled is the slight trivialisation of what is, in the end, a tragedy. Deaths become commonplace, all carried out with plastic, pantomime daggers, and we feel the ambivalence reserved for crime dramas – they’re gangsters anyway, so their death was inevitable. Othello’s trajectory is changed from a man of honour giving in to jealousy and paranoia to a man who falls to the level of the conniving gangster Iago.
…replete with parties, whiskey, sharp suits and nightclub singing…
Yet overall, the setting made lighter and often comedic a dark play, avoiding the over-moralising which can sometimes mark out productions of Othello. Orangutan are offering workshops and reduced tickets to schools, and it is clear that their focus is on making the production and play as accessible as possible, and accessible it is – replete with parties, whiskey, sharp suits and nightclub singing.