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Othello

William Shakespeare
Nottingham Playhouse
(2003)

Paul Savage is one of a select group of seven young directors whose talent has been recognised at an early stage. As part of the Regional Theatre Initiative they've been awarded a grant to direct a major production in a regional theatre.

Savage has been given the chance to shadow artistic director Giles Croft at Nottingham Playhouse, renowned for its creativity and unconventionality.

Directing one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies and putting a new spin on it, in the customary Nottingham Playhouse fashion, was always going to be a daunting proposition. It was made all the more difficult when Patrice Naiambana who was playing the lead was replaced due to "irreconcilable differences" only a week before opening night.

Fortunately the theatre was able to bring in Leo Wringer who had played the Moor twice before. Obviously it's impossible to speculate whether the production would have been any better with Naiambana on stage; my instinct says not.

Wringer excels in the role. He has the voice, stage presence and stature required to play Othello and he adds an almost shocking sense of insanity when told of his wife's alleged infidelity.

He doesn't have the build to be a credible military commander but his vulnerability as the man who loved too well and trusted not wisely endear him to the audience.

Savage promised to take a fresh, stylish look at Othello and this is evident right from the start when Desdemona's trademark handkerchief, the prop which inflames Othello's jealousy when it turns up in the wrong place, flutters onto the set from the ceiling.

Desdemona is Asian, excellently portrayed by Salima Saxton as an amorous, caring wife who is perplexed at her husband's change of attitude towards her. Her early scenes with Wringer are touching; their passion is fairly electric.

Ranjit Krishnamma also revels in the part of Brabantio, distraught that his daughter has married the Moor without his consent. The situation has added poignancy with the Asian connection, arranged marriages still being prevalent today.

Among the tragedy and the deaths, Savage manages to come up with lighter moments. When Iago and three soldiers get Cassio drunk there is more carousing and singing than you experience in many pubs on a Saturday night.

Those highlights apart, Savage's production is competent rather than outstanding. The most disappointing aspect of it is Daniel Copeland's Iago. The part is possibly even more important than that of Othello - but Copeland is not scheming enough to bring out the evil of the character. Nor does he show the mischievousness which can make Iago wickedly likeable. You simply don't care what happens to him. It's also baffling why his accent keeps changing.

The set doesn't quite come off; a number of doors on two levels separating Othello's and Desdemona's upstairs bedroom from the rest of the action only for the bed in which she is murdered to make a downstairs entrance.

And the costumes seem to have no consistency, a mixture of eras giving a slight but unconvincing modern-day feel to the production.

Still, it's a good debut by Savage whose offering might have been enjoyed all the more in a theatre which has become a standard-bearer for innovative excellence.

"Othello" runs until November 22nd

Steve Orme