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othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith | Review

Ery Nzaramba (Othello) and Kirsten Foster (Desdemona) in othellomacbeth. Photo by Helen Murray
Ery Nzaramba (Othello) and Kirsten Foster (Desdemona) in othellomacbeth. Photo by Helen Murray

Taster menus are one of my favourite dining experiences and now, for our viewing pleasure, Lyric and HOME have come together to bring us taster theatre in the form of shortened Shakespeare, presented in the beautifully refurbished Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith.

With Hamlet famously having a 4-hour duration, Shakespeare is perhaps not best known for his brevity but thrusting together two of Shakespeare’s best-known works – Othello and Macbeth – this production takes what would be around 5 and a half hours of material and condenses it down into under 3 hours. Quite a feat.

This significant reduction in time could possibly have been achieved through the re-writing of scenes, moulding the text into a faster-paced alternative while keeping the overall structure and narrative intact. Or possibly the two plays could somehow have been amalgamated into a single production with two stories taking place simultaneously (no mean feat) – but rather than alter the script itself, Lyric and HOME’s production preserved the delivery of each scene allowing for performance much as it would be in any other production. The shortening of the play(s) came instead from a variant of a time-skip device, allowing us to jump from scene to scene swiftly (if not entirely smoothly).

Through doing this, the inflection and context of each speech or conversation remained recognisable to all Shakespeare fans and the highlights of the two plays were laid bare to enjoy in a single serving. Well, technically two single servings as while there was some overlap, the two plays were performed for all intents and purposes directly one after the other.

As an appreciator of Shakespeare’s work and with Othello and Macbeth being two of my favourites, I can see the advantage of boiling the productions down to the bare bones and with the transitions between the scenes using a ‘flash forward’ type bridging device, this made for an overall interesting idea that certainly had its merits.

But I can’t help feeling there was a missed opportunity. An opportunity to take Shakespeare, well loved by some but dreaded by others, and to offer it up in a more accessible format. To provide an opportunity for people to make a smaller time commitment and get a greater amount of exposure to the material. Sadly though, through taking out much of the characterisation and build-up, I could see it being very difficult for anyone not familiar with the texts to follow the storylines making this a production for the initiated.

That being said, both plays being stripped down to just the most dramatic elements provided a fast-paced and intense dramatic experience that had an energy different to any other Shakespeare production I have seen.

Not for the uninitiated and still requiring a full evening’s allocation of time, this production may well invoke a ‘love it or hate it’ reaction but while it has its limits, I think it’s safe to say that if only for uniqueness alone, Othellomacbeth stands out on the scene.

3 Star Review

Review by Damien Russell

Two iconic plays
Seven deaths
Fourteen characters
One unique evening

An audacious condensed staging of two of Shakespeare’s most brutal and poetic plays. Uniquely told by an ensemble company, these two iconic stories collide in this dynamic and visceral new production.

Directed by Jude Christian, who most recently co-directed the sell-out, Royal Court production of My Mum’s a Twat with Vicky Featherstone, as well as the 2015 hit Lela & Co, also at the Royal Court. Jude returns to Manchester following her work directing the Royal Exchange and Bush Theatre production of Parliament Square. Her collaboration with the Lyric Hammersmith continues following 2017’s The Seagull.

This production is designed by Basia Bińkowska, the overall winner of the Linbury Prize 2017. The Linbury Prize is the UK’s most prestigious award for Stage Design, providing a unique opportunity for graduating designers to work with some of the UK’s leading theatre, opera and dance companies.

The full cast includes: Samuel Collings (Iago/Macduff), Grace Cookey-Gam (Ludovico/Lennox), Paul Courtenay Hyu (Brabantio/Duncan), Caroline Faber (Lady Macbeth), Kirsten Foster (Desdemona), Sandy Grierson (Cassio/Macbeth), Kezrena James (Bianca), Melissa Johns (Emilia) and Ery Nzaramba (Othello/Banquo).

Director Jude Christian
Designer Basia Bińkowska
Lighting Designer Joshua Pharo
Sound Designer Nick Gill
Casting Director Annelie Powell CDG

A Lyric Hammersmith and HOME production
Supported by The Linbury Trust

othellomacbeth
by William Shakespeare. Directed by Jude Christian
5 Oct ‐ 3 Nov 2018
Tickets £10 ‐ £42 Running time2hrs 50mins (including interval)
Age: 14+
Venue: Main House
Book tickets for the Lyric Hammersmith Tickets

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