Review: Othello, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory

IF YOU are still struggling with the relevance of Shakespeare in these days of Brexit and Trump, then look no further than the superb Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory production of Othello, directed by Richard Twyman.

From the very start of this stylish production we see the Moor, Othello, struggling with his Muslim beliefs in a conservative, Christian Venice. His marriage to Desdemona has deep roots in Islam and yet in order to overcome the very real issues of being a former slave who has risen to high rank he has to hide his beliefs behind the very obvious symbol of the omnipresent crucifix around his neck.

The gentle giant, played by recent RADA graduate Abraham Popoola, scoops up tiny Norah Lopez-Jones’ Desdemona with such tender joy it lightens the soul, and yet as his heart is poisoned by Iago’s twisted intentions he becomes a suitably terrifying presence.

So passionate, indeed, are his jealous rantings that perhaps a few important lines weren’t spoken quite clearly enough.

And yet the star of this particular show is Iago, played with devious aplomb by Mark Lockyer whose paternal geniality belies the manipulative jealous heart within.

Also deserving of a mention is Katy Stephens as Emilia, tormented by conflicting love for her husband, Iago, and her mistress, Desdemona; a contradiction which becomes key as the tragedy unfolds.

As usual for stf, a superb minimalist set and lighting keep attention focused on the floor where this tragic tale is punctuated with moments of high drama to keep the audience engaged, from the entrancing opening scenes to the final, gut-wrenching moments of devastation as the two lovers lie broken on the floor.

Reminiscent of 2015’s stf production of Romeo and Juliet, the addition of rock music and contemporary choreography and costumes bring an added dimension to the production and are, quite obviously, designed to shock.

Full marks must go to Richard Twyman for realising that in 2017 it sometimes it takes a little more than a powerful script to engage the audience enough to get them thinking beyond ‘The Bard’.

Clear and simple, this powerful production is daring in its modernity and yet anchored in centuries of enduring passions. Perhaps ‘alternative facts’ aren’t quite such a new notion after all.

  • Othello is on at the Tobacco Factory Theatre until April 1.

Review by Jayne Bennett