Otello

William Shakespeare adapted by Jaime Lorca, Teresita Iacobelli and Christian Ortega

Viajeinmovil

Southwark Playhouse (The Little)

From 26 September 2017 to 30 September 2017

Review by Howard Loxton

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This intriguing retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy comes from Chile as part of the CASA Latin American Theatre Festival. It is a compacted version running 75 minutes that removes subplots and cuts dialogue to the essential but the English surtitles suggest it stays true to Shakespeare’s content.

It is framed, for no obvious reason, by a couple watching a performance of the play on television who then become Iago and his wife Emilia and act out the story of black General Othello and Iago’s scheming to make Othello believe his wife Desdemona is being unfaithful which leads to her murder.

Jaime Lorca and Nicole Espinoza play Iago and Emilia and also voice and manipulate the other characters in puppet form: Othello, Desdemona and junior officer Cassio. The puppets are just heads, mounted on poles when not in use, used with clothing and occasionally with a limb or a torso. There is a close-up combination of puppets and live actors, an intimacy that seems to embrace the audience. These painted faces seem to really talk.

Lorca and Espinoza are quite amazing: they give powerful performances while at the same time handling complex and very precise manipulation. Lorca’s rich, gravelly voice handles both sides of a dramatic dialogue like a ventriloquist but without loss of power or emotion and always in character making voices not only answer each other but so rapidly changing they seem to overlap.

While their puppetry skills, combining one holding a head and the other a limb or a costume while perhaps also being a third character, are registered arousing admiration without distracting in any way from the engrossing performance of character.

In most production of this play, either Othello or Iago may dominate: here the play belongs to both of them with Emilia / Desdemona alongside. Directed by the adaptors, this is a production pulsing with theatre magic.

Promotional material suggests this production explores Latin America’s sad record of femicide. Perhaps there are things in the Spanish script to support that that were lost in translation, perhaps it is enough to show a woman so tragically wronged to create a connection among its home audience, but this isn’t an obvious aspect. This isn’t a concept-driven creation.

Apart from the choice of puppetry as a medium, it concentrates on telling the story: and it does so with passion and clarity.