When being bad is just so good – to watch that is. Bell Shakespeare’s Othello is a sophisticated production that thrives on bad-boy energy.
The plot and lines are as per the William Shakespeare version. Outsider black army General marries fancy local white lady. General’s right-hand man is a scheming dickhead who seeks to sabotage the happy couple by setting up the wife and guy who took his dream job. Many fights, many desperate pleadings, many tragedies. The point? Depends on which scholarly tome you read. As a non-scholar what I take away is that you should only trust yourself. Deception is everywhere. Do you need to know the story before going? It helps. The style of 400 years ago was to stretch one sentence into a paragraph, sprinkled with ye olde thee-thou-strumpet-knave-moor. The cast however make up for any gaps in understanding with expert body language and tone of voice.
What does Bell Shakespeare’s Othello bring to 2016? Like all of Shakespeare’s works, underlying are the basics of human existence: love, lust, jealousy, spite, injustice. It can be frustrating to a modern audience (well, me at least) when a 30-minute story is made into a multi-hour talk fest. And that’s when Bell Shakespeare ‘get’ that every scene needs some pep; to inject life into each scene yet with subtlety. How? In the capable hands of director Peter Evans, the actors bound about the stage and twist their emotions through physicality. The complete package of contemporary costume design by Michael Hankin sets apart the supporting actors who else might be ‘who is that guy again’? And what of the ‘ooh good idea’ set design also by Hankin – minimal props are seamlessly integrated with the story. The sound design by Steve Toulmin varies between dramatic boisterousness and haunting tragedy. Yes, doof doof appears in the same play as ballads.
Bell Shakespeare’s productions so often rely on acting talent to maintain the short attention spans of a TV generation. So then, Yalin Ozucelik captures attention via his portrayal of the villain Iago. Ozucelik nails it as the scheming rogue who deceives all; the humorous hustler we love to hate. The spiralling from bliss to turmoil by Ray Chong Nee expertly contrasts the confident Othello in earlier scenes to the later raging then languishing climax. Elizabeth Nabben’s Desdemona is both feminine and innocent with graceful composure.
When you want the classics spruced up with modern pep without try-hard ‘WTF?’, Bell Shakespeare gets it right. Experience a polished production in a first-rate revamp of this tragedy: get thee to Othello.
Bell Shakespeare presents
by William Shakespeare
Director Peter Evans
Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre, The Playhouse
Dates: 14 – 22 October 2016