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Othello

William Shakespeare
Lazarus Theatre Company
Blue Elephant Theatre
(2010)

Production photo

After 2009's Julius Caesar, Othello is the latest Shakespearean offering from Lazarus Theatre Company.

Power, jealousy and love lie at the very heart of Shakespeare's tale, but in this production, whittled down to just over an hour and a half, they struggle to take hold. Drastically cutting the play means that the characters' personae and intentions are denied the opportunity to build and crescendo, with the shortened version becoming an 'Othello: The Best Bits'. Although great for revision were one to be studying it as a set text, those meeting the play for the first time would require some further reading to tie up loose ends. The play concludes rather abruptly after Desdemona's death and thereby fails to explore the events catalysed by Othello's actions, including his own demise and that of the other characters.

There is a lack of tension throughout the whole production, mainly due to the cut script and direction of the dialogue. Othello himself, played by Alec Parkinson, is the worst offender, over pronouncing every word and creating staccato sentences by separating each syllable to demonstrate an awareness of iambic pentameter. At times it is as if the production is to be recorded and used for English language lessons abroad, which would make Lazarus Theatre Company a small fortune should they wish to pursue this avenue. Although very clear to listen to, this slows the production down and with the focus on how the sentence is being said, rather than what it means, emotion is not successfully conveyed and fails to break through the enunciated dialogue.

The large ensemble of fifteen actors prove this is a real team effort as they work well together in what at times could arguably be defined as a Greek chorus. The simple black and white costumes do, however, make it difficult to distinguish between the characters, as well as failing to establish any sense of hierarchy with everyone dressed in quasi-office/formal wear. This is, of course, not primarily the costume's responsibility, so it does not help that a sense of hierarchy is not enforced by the acting, with Othello failing to come across as strong and powerful.

Scheming, conniving and cold hearted Iago is well portrayed by Robin Holden in one of Shakespeare's most villainous roles. Nicole Hartley as Emilia proves herself a loyal servant and friend to Desdemona and is one of the only members of the cast not to employ the 'Shakespeare à la Staccato' technique which makes her performance much more enjoyable to watch.

As there are no wings as such at the Blue Elephant Theatre, director Ricky Dukes has decided to stage scene changes as slow motion pieces of physical theatre. Whilst visually this is most stimulating, they have no meaning and overshadow the main action of the play. There are also a handful of blocking issues and in such a small theatre this should never arise. It is unclear whether the director ever sat in any of the seats in the auditorium in order to double check sight lines.

As the ash cloud continues to cast a shadow over Europe it was as if it had somehow managed to infiltrate the Blue Elephant Theatre for Saturday evening's performance. So thick was the constant smoke that at times it masked the actors' visibility almost completely, as well as causing the odd cough or two. But whereas the Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland succeeds in its claims to be explosive, unfortunately Lazarus Theatre Company's production in Camberwell fails.

Playing until 8th May 2010

Reviewer: Simon Sladen