In line with their company name, Bare Naked Theatre usually opt for simple settings and minimal furnishings, and this production of Othello proved no exception, with only the occasional bench or prop added to the set as required. The lights were brought up on an almost bare stage, focusing attention immediately on the characters and the plot as it hatched in Iago's mind.
Director Stephen Lee has moved away from a Machiavellian interpretation of Iago that sees him as a supreme force of darkness, a criminal mastermind that would stop at nothing to bring Othello down. Instead he focused on what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil” – that Iago is really just a petty, small-minded, manipulative man.
Consequently, Iago was played with more subtlety than I have seen previously with an intentional avoidance of the over-the-top villain. David Meadows gave an outstanding and frighteningly believable performance as Iago. His rage in soliloquoy earned the audience’s shocked silence and his disturbingly convincing sincerity when speaking with Othello only made his spotlighted soliloquies more sickening as he revealed his poisonous intent. His verse-speaking was simply superb and he also extracted a number of laughs along the way. Admittedly, and to be fair to the other actors, this script was really made for Iago.
Ian Bolgia was a noble, stoic and assured Othello but as the play built, I found his performance problematic – a case of him reacting too suddenly too quickly. I felt less the subtle tragedy of a great man gradually unraveling and more that he seemed to suddenly switch into a raving lunatic who spat out his lines. It is admittedly a very difficult part to play and he certainly wasn’t distractingly bad but the occasional incomprehensibility of his verse-speaking and violent outbursts made me feel tempted to giggle.
Kim Walsh is an attractive Desdemona but there is little real sense of a close relationship between her and Othello. She played her part of beguiling simplicity commendably and her best performance was in the final scene. The more worldly-wise Emilia, played by Angelique Malcolm, put in a solid performance as the shrewish, jaded wife of Iago. James Davies as the foppish Roderigo was very good, and Dan Luxton made a solid, likeable Cassio.
Class Act Theatre and Bare Naked Theatre, who also teamed up to perform Othello in 2004, produced this work for a repeat season in Perth and a South-West tour. I would especially recommend the performance to schools studying the script as this is a play that should not just be read but heard.
Director Stephen Lee created a great sense of urgency in the pacing of the first half that was unmatched in the second half, which was a bit laboured at times as if unable to maintain the intensity. All in all, however, this was a marvelous and clearly thought through production well worth the view.
Class Act and Bare Naked Theatre Companies present
OTHELLOby William Shakespeare
The Rechabites Hall | 224 William St, Northbridge
June 6 - 30
BOCS 9484 1133
Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River & Albany
July 2 - 15
Bunbury Regional Entertainment Centre