Othello | The KingsmenPhotos - Sarah Walker

The geometric 90s looking set design tell you immediately that you’re in for something new and different with this production of Othello. The windows of the theatre space at 45 Downstairs are festooned with tapes of black and primary colours, suggesting the bars of a prison, the narrow window openings of a castle, or the timbers of a ship. Lighting is simple and there are few props. The action happens on the bodies of the actors, tightly choreographed into a piece that at times almost veers into dance. The actors tumble and roll; there is clowning and buffoonery a-plenty. The extensive development of a vocabulary of body language provides an original and vivacious aspect to this presentation of Othello’s dark story. The marrying of Shakespeare to physical theatre is an ambitious undertaking with a whole new level of performance to keep track of along with the demands of the language. It does make for a particular effort from the audience and, although the physical aspect is meticulously designed to support the script, the clowning is at times distracting; it may be that the cast hadn’t quite settled into the form and was having to work hard to deliver the story on so many levels.

The play opens with Brabantino, father of Desdemona (Peter King who also devised the production), on a stretcher, minions at his side in states of dog-like devotion. Learning of Desdemona’s attachment to Othello he blusters and rants, making him easily lampooned by the other characters later in the action.The actors were showing their opening night nerves and several line prompts were called for; it seemed as though they hadn’t completely inhabited the choreographic elements of the show and King, in particular, was struggling. To the credit of the ensemble, early gaps and patches were mended; they found their form and proceeded to a robust culmination. The two leads, Anthony Taufa as Othello and Annie Last as Desdemona, bring measured and masterful performances, carrying the audience with them at all times. These two in particular seem to be most at home here. Gabriel Partington as Iago, although his acting is stylish and confident, is somehow lacking a convincing level of malevolence and mystery that this sociopathic character requires.

One is easily convinced of the attraction between Othello and Desdemona. Her strength of character is unwavering and she displays complexity and an endearingly familiar modern style of femininity, no hapless victim this, rather, thoroughly believable in her agonies of dealing with Othello’s turning on her. He is so calm and authoritative to start with that his downfall is especially shocking. Taufa, who has played this role many times, has the audience dangling from every syllable he utters. Othello’s humility, his sense of being the outsider and thinking of himself as ‘coarse’ is well contrasted by the grotesqueness of the what goes on around him.

Once you get used to the rolling horseplay of this piece you begin to appreciate how eloquently telling the gestures are but they seem to be more illustrative of the dialogue as it is understood, more than revealing of the subtext. The destruction of a good man and a good woman is such a chilling tale and it is here delved into with gusto. The production fully enjoys the bawdiness, double entendres and sophisticated rudeness present in the work. The sexual politics are well-explored with Desdemona realizing finally the powerlessness of her position; it is grueling to see her succumb to her fate. Kingsmen’s Othello is well worth seeing now and will be stunning once the cast really begin to enjoy themselves.

The Kingsmen present
by William Shakespeare

Venue: fortyfivedownstairs | 45 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Dates: Tue 8 Jun - Sat 26 Jun, 2010
Times: Tuesday - Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 5.00pm
Tickets: Full $35, Conc $25
Duration: 150 mins (approx)
Bookings: 03 9662 9966 | www.fortyfivedownstairs.com

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