Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Othello

William Shakespeare
The Guildford Shakespeare Company
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford

David Carr as Othello and Nicole Hartley as Desdemona
David Carr as Othello and Chris Porter as Iago
David Carr as Othello and Nicole Hartley as Desdemona

The word has gone around that this talented company produces Shakespeare’s plays in a manner which makes the Bard accessible, enjoyable, and easily understood, while still using most of the original script, and even before opening night four performances of their production of Othello have completely sold out.

The venue is once again the magnificent and historic Holy Trinity Church in Guildford’s High Street where I think I raved about their production of Hamlet, so totally involving, exciting and surprising that I thought it could never be beaten.

The ghosts and shadows of Hamlet, and the swirling lights and eerie premonitions of the Weird Sisters in the following year’s Macbeth, created a feeling of mystery and suspense completely enhanced by the setting. Never knowing quite what was going to happen next kept the audience totally focused and intrigued.

Othello, however, is a different can of worms, a psychological thriller with most of the dark deeds churning in the mind of Othello’s ensign Iago as he plans to get rid of any obstacles in his way to achieve his ambitions. There is no mystery here as Iago (Chris Porter) confides to the audience at every turn, often speaking directly to those nearest.

The story is of jealousy, betrayal, and downright malevolence as he plans to get rid of Othello (and anyone else in his way) by a series of tricks and suggestions as he cleverly and insidiously persuades the jealous Othello that his new wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful.

The staging is one they have used very successfully previously, a walkway with a raised stage at each end, which gives a bit of a Wimbledon effect with heads swivelling from side to side, but is an excellent method to give good sight lines to all of the audience.

There is excitement in the show with the fight scenes (staged superbly and realistically as usual by Philip D’Orleans) ranging from the stage to through and around the audience as a drunken Cassio (Matt Pinches, brilliant as always) chases Roderigo who has just tried to kill him, believing this man to be his rival for the love of Desdemona.

Christopher York, as rich gentleman Roderigo, is the comic aspect of this show, mostly because of his outstanding performance as a gullible young man believing all he is told. His bewildered indignation when realisation dawns that he has been cheated is joy.

Music plays a large part in this show which is set in the 1950s at the time of the Cold War. Two masked and elaborately-gowned figures appear on one stage and a beautiful aria from Pagliacci fills the air, before attention switches to the other stage where a small table is set with check cloth and the obligatory candle in a bottle, the music now switching to popular tunes of the time.

The sounds of war are ever-present in the background. “All in the Game” seems a particularly appropriate song for this story, although “Twilight Hour” as Desdemona dances her way to bed seems more of a joke, but she does perform it so beautifully.

Caroline Devlin coaxes every ounce of feeling from her performers. David Carr, who understudied Adrian Lester in the role, plays Othello with a gullibility to match that of Roderigo, but also with an intensity of uncontrollable jealousy followed by desperate remorse when he discovers the truth too late.

His Desdemona is the beautiful Nicole Hartley, heartbroken at Othello’s change towards her, and with a wistful longing in her voice as she sings the "Willow Song". I was also very impressed by Rosalind Blessed’s Emilia. Her final speech before her death brought tears to the eyes.

While I cannot say that I am as thrilled by this production as I was with Hamlet, it is still a great show: excellently staged, superbly performed by all the cast and another one it would be a crime to miss.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor