Good Company Shakespeare Productions Ltd
Gala Theatre, Durham, and touring
I have to say that it's good to see a touring production of Othello. I don't remember one coming near the North East for quite a lot of years: in fact, one (middle-aged) member of the audience, a regular theatre-goer, told me this was the first time she had seen it onstage. Kudos, then, to the Good Company for touring the show, and to the Gala Theatre for bringing it to the NE.
My audience member friend thought it was wonderful, so why was I disappointed?
Perhaps because it was a very static, almost statuesque production - and here some unfortunate design decisions were possibly partly to blame. A circular centrally placed podium and a back wall with symmetrically arranged entrances encouraged making for the centre spot so that the rest of the stage was hardly used. And the have the climactic scene, the killing of Desdemona, played in a well in the central podium not only killed the scene for the audience but also made it very difficult for Othello, who was clearly uncomfortable at being confined in a very narrow soace.
Perhaps because the verse-speaking was not of a terribly high standard: in fact, Iago almost gabbled for much of the time. To me he seemed petulant, like a little boy who wants to get his own back on the big boys for taking his ball. This was no monster of evil.
Overall, there was no light and shade, a very restricted dynamic. When Othello's mind goes, when he is driven to despair and thoughts of murder, it would have come as a surprise if we didn't already know the story. There was no lead-up, no gradual deterioration: one minute he was the great war leader, the next a man driven mad by jealousy, but there was nothing in between.
In the programme there are three pages devoted to what Shakespeare means by a "Moor": is he a North African, a Berber, or a Black African, an Ethiope? Had the same attention been given to the text, we might have had a much better production.
On the principle that an ordinary production is better than no production, then this version of Othello was welcome and the people of Durham are no doubt pleased to see Shakespeare at their theatre but they do deserve better than this and certinly than the truly awful Hamlet they saw some months ago.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan