Bismillah, ‘In the name of Allah’ are the Muslim Othello’s opening words, a Muslim who roams around with a Crucifix around his neck leading an army in Cyprus to fight… Muslims. He pretends to be a Christian to fit in and advance himself through the ranks of the army. And that sets the religious tension, but that is only one of the layers of tension in this play. I wonder how we hide our identities to adapt and fit in, something which probably all do in today’s society.
Occasionally you’ll see the sparkly gold prayer beads (tasbih) often used by Muslims, and that is probably the only sparkly tangible item in this play.
Richard Twyman, (the director) has been bold and brave in casting a number of young actors for roles requiring such expert acting skills. He has chosen very well. Each cast member bringing something special to the table. This perfect concoction of talent and skill is to be admired!
Othello is physically strong, with a very powerful voice. In fact, at one point he demands ‘the handkerchief’. His voice echoes fierce fully around the auditorium. His physical strength is essential for the times when he carries his beloved wife Desdemona in his arms. There was charisma between the two and maybe a tad too much passionate kissing. At times I felt that if I stretched my arm out, I probably could touch the love in the air. Abraham Popoola who played Othello only graduated from RADA in 2016 and the young Norah Lopez Holden who played Desdemona were exceptional in their delivery of roles. Just amazing!
Iago’s performance (played by Mark Lockyer) was exceptional and oozed experience. He shifted between being calculative and manipulative by implanting seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind about Desdemona’s faithfulness, to acting the obedient officer. Iago was the key character who leads the story and he did this expertly. He does not value his wife Emilia (Katy Stephens). She is beautiful in every aspect, her voice, her demeanour and dress. This elegance exaggerates the simplicity and innocence of Desdemona, who passionately argues her innocence with Othello.
Desdemona, as expected, is murdered by Othello. This aggressive terrifying murder scene is intense and goes on a bit, which is suitably fitting for this Shakespeare production. Emilia settles down, next to the dead Desdemona to die. Emilia’s passion for acting seems to seep out of every cell in her body. Her acting is one of the best that I have ever seen and I am truly blown away by it.
There is some music, very different to what I expected, nevertheless, I did enjoy it. There is also an unexpected scene that is shocking, that came out of nowhere, quite in your face and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. So a few may see it as distasteful while others may call it art. I fail to see why such crudeness was really necessary.
Considering I am not a major Shakespeare fanatic, I can put my hand on my heart and say that I thoroughly enjoyed this play, especially the different layers of tension and the analysis of it all. A brilliant production that is supported by an exceptionally talented cast. The acting was at a different level. I certainly will be looking forward to watching more productions from Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory.
Review by Shaidi Ramsurrun
One of Shakespeare’s most timeless plays is made ever more relevant with this contemporary re-setting, a Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory co-production directed by Richard Twyman, Artistic Director for English Touring Theatre.
RADA graduate, Abraham Popoola, takes the title role as a Muslim general, facing difficult decisions and watching his life unravel when employed by a western colonial power to lead their army against a Turkish invasion.
This masterful depiction of a life torn apart by racism and the destructive nature of prejudice features a cast whose stage credits include performances in ‘Hamlet’ at the Globe, ‘The Alchemist’ and ‘Othello’ for the RSC and ‘The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at the Almeida.
Explore the themes further with free day festival The Othello Project on Saturday 20th May.
Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano
Christopher Bianchi Duke/Gratiano
Alan Coveney Brabantio
Piers Hampton Cassio
Hayat Kamille Bianca
Mark Lockyer Iago
Brian Lonsdale Roderigo
Norah Lopez Holden Desdemona
Abraham Popoola Othello
John Sandeman Lodovico
Katy Stephens Emilia
with Joel Macey, Zachary Powell and Kenton Thomas
Richard Twyman Director
Georgia Lowe Designer
Giles Thomas Composer and Sound Designer
Matthew Graham Lighting Designer
Floriana Dezou Assistant Director
Abdul-Rehman Malik Creative Adviser
Produced by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, Tobacco Factory Theatres and English Touring Theatre