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Thursday, February 13, 2014


Guildford Shakespeare Company

Holy Trinity Church, 5th to 22nd February 2014

I’ll save you the trouble of the reading to the end. This is a brilliant production, not to be missed.

The story is well-known. Iago, angry about being passed over for promotion, determines to destroy Othello, the "Moor of Venice” (a character many believe Shakespeare based on the Ambassador to the king of Barbary, who visited London around 1600), and sets about deceiving Othello into believing that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful. It’s a play about jealousy. So I knew all of this, although I hadn’t read the programme or any notes about the play, when I sat back hoping to be entertained and surprised. I certainly was, but I was also shocked, because I was unprepared for the intensity and depth of emotion that the play stirs up in the hands of such talented actors.

Somehow the interplay between the atmospheric environment of Trinity Church, the “double stage”, the clever lighting and the intimacy set up by Caroline Devlin’s excellent direction worked to heighten and make compelling Chris Porter's outstanding Iago to the point where I almost wanted to jump up on stage and attack him myself.  The play was compulsive from beginning to end. I couldn’t take my eyes off the leads as the action switched from stage to stage.

Matt Pinches seemed to inhabit Cassio effortlessly and David Carr’s Othello had the nobility needed to make the play set off on the right path but I thought that the women stole the show as it moved to its tragic close. The way that Nicola Hartley played Desdemona was perfect to her end and the Emilia’s final speech was delivered rich with emotion, right at the edge but never over the top, by Rosalind Blessed (who, it turns out, is the daughter of noted thespian Brian Blessed).

I’m not sure that the “Cold War” theme completely worked for me. If it wasn’t until I read the other reviews of the play that I realised that that was the point of the 1950s staging. I thought it was 1940s staging and I'd taken the uniforms to represent British or American troops in Italy in 1943 or 1944. I’m a man, so how am I supposed to tell the difference between 1940s dresses and 1950s dresses? But the reason that this did not resonate with me was that the war between Venice and the Ottoman Turks was not a Cold War in any sense. In fact it was an almost continuous extremely hot war, or more accurately, series of wars, seven in all, that ran from 1463 to 1718. Cyprus, where most of the action takes place, fell to the Turks in 1571 following the siege of Famagusta after which the city, surrounded by 100,000 Ottoman troops and 1500 cannons, surrendered and the Venetian commander was flayed alive.

I really appreciate the opportunity to see theatre of this quality. I fell asleep still thinking about Othello’s feelings towards Desdemona and how they mutated in response to the information he was fed. Run, don’t walk, to the box office and beg, steal, or borrow a ticket to see this wonderful production before it ends on 22nd February.

In the future, everyone will be famous to fifteen people.

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