Conspiracy, intrigue, petty jealousy, back-stabbing and manipulation – just another day in the office for most people and if your office is a high powered financial one in the City of London, the pressure is really on. This then is the setting for an updated version of “Othello” at the Waterloo East Theatre.
The corporate world is a ruthless place and no matter how many hours you put – even sleeping on your desk – rewards don’t always fall the way that you wish them to. Iago (Trevor Murphy) is hacked off that his boss Othello (James Barnes) has passed him over for promotion in favour of the young go-getting Cassio (Denholm Spurr). So Iago hatches a plan to have his revenge and get his foot firmly back on the rungs of the promotion ladder. His plan is two-fold. First get Cassio drunk at one of the work parties so that he gets into a fight with other traders and secondly plant suspicion about the relationship between Cassio and his leader’s wife Desdemona (Charlie Blackwood) in Othello’s mind. Using his wife Emilia (Ella Duncan) who works for Desdemona, Iago manages to get hold of a handkerchief – an item which Othello inherited from his mother and was the first present he ever gave to Desdemona – and plants it on Cassio. Well now, to use the vernacular, it all kicks off big style. Othello descending into a mad jealous rage, accuses Desdemona of adultery, using highly insulting language then asks Iago to have Cassio removed from the scene and finally confronts his wife in the bedroom where despite all of her protestations of love and fidelity to her husband, Desdemona pays a high price for Iago’s Machiavellian maneuvering.
Having never seen a production of “Othello” before I only knew that it was one of Shakespeare’s tragedies and unlikely therefore to be a barrel of laughs. In this I was right but it was a superb play which started before we took our seats with Iago asleep on his desk in his office. Once he woke, he talked directly to the audience filling us in on all the details of why he was so disgruntled and then we met the rest of the ‘team’.
Director Pamela Schermann’s setting of the play in a modern office works so well. Anyone who has worked in the corporate world will recognise the ruthlessness of Iago, letting nothing stop him getting what he feels is rightly his. Some of the best moments in the production are where everything freezes and the lighting changes to highlight Iago telling the audience of his thought and plans. This is superbly played by Trevor Murphy who manages to be manipulative and sycophantic without ever seeming creepy. He influences Othello using a combination of charm, innuendo and nuanced denial in order to hammer home the alleged infidelity of Desdemona. Thanks to Trevor’s skilful portrayal, there is a time when you almost want Iago to succeed in his desires – it feels fair for the work he has put in – but his methods prove too much even for him and he ends up refusing to speak ever again. James Barnes delivers a barnstorming performance as Othello transforming from the smooth, perfectly dressed ‘master of the universe’ that first bestrides the stage into the broken down, diminished man at the end. James plays the descent into jealousy and madness perfectly, taking the audience with him every step of the way as Iago’s whispers and insinuations arouse his suspicions and then finally drive him into madness and the depths of despair. James’ acting in the final highly graphic scene is both terrifying and moving as his rage overtakes him and then he calms realising what he has done. It would be easy to overlook the rest of the cast given the strength of James and Trevor but this would be a mistake as each of them is excellent in their respective roles and contribute so much to this really excellent production that doesn’t put a foot wrong from start to finish and superbly demonstrates how a play written around 1603 is still vibrant and relevant over 400 hundred years later.
“Othello” has recently had a sell-out run at the Rose Bankside and going on the show I’ve just seen, once it finishes its run at the Waterloo East, it should be a shoe in for a transfer to the West-End where I will happily be queuing to see it again.
Review by Terry Eastham
Creatives: Pamela Schermann (director), Gillian Steventon (designer), Petr Vocka (lighting designer), Philip Matejtschuk (sound designer), Leah Lawry-Johns (fight director).
Cast: James Barnes (Othello), Trevor Murphy (Iago), Charlie Blackwood (Desdemona), Ella Duncan (Emilia), Denholm Spurr (Cassio).
5 Star OTHELLO at The Rose Playhouse Bankside
Time Zone Theatre is a London-based theatre company, which aims to encourage collaboration between British and International artists. Previous productions: The Last Day (based on Victor Hugo, Waterloo East Theatre, 2012), Salome (by Oscar Wilde, Edinburgh Fringe Festival & Etcetera Theatre, 2012), Werther’s Sorrows (by Duncan Gates, Edinburgh Fringe Festival), The Taming of the Shrew (by William Shakespeare, Rose Playhouse, Bankside), Orpheus and Eurydice (Opera by C.W. Gluck, Rose Playhouse, Bankside), Woyzeck! (by Stevan Mijailovic after Georg Büchner, Edinburgh Fringe Festival) and the double-bill Shoot, I didn’t mean that by Catriona Kerridge / The Last Days of Mankind by Karl Kraus at Tristan Bates Theatre in 2014, which was awarded public funding by Arts Council England.
10th to 21st March 2015
Tues to Sat at 7.30pm. Sun at 4pm
(No performances on Mondays)
Running time approx 90 mins.
Wednesday 11th March 2015