As a play of such magnitude, it seems only a ‘National Theatre’ production would do ‘Othello’ justice. Femi Nylander’s performance however, set in the more relaxed surroundings of the Christ church fellow’s garden, managed to change the flavour without reducing the play’s poignancy. Here, the grandiose tragic elements were played down in favour of a more subtle and captivating depiction of Othello’s downfall.
The natural environment, the boundariless stage, and the proximity of the actors to the audience, created an immediate and personal quality to the experience. But this did not reduce the drama; the play was wrought with a tension from start to finish, constantly foreshadowing Desdemona’s fate – one scene saw her singing with the eerie background noise of a sword blade being sharpened, and the presence of the deathbed on the stage throughout enhanced the deterministic feel. As the evening darkened, so too did the plot, and the shadows produced by the artificial lights at the end lent a harsh realism to the closing scenes.
Barney Fishwick’s stand out performance immediately grasped the hearts and minds of the audience. Iago danced with our inner devils, and his charismatic and mischievous soliloquies had us rapt with anticipation. Perhaps this slightly more playful characterization was purchased at the cost of some of Iago’s darker facets, and by the end we were almost sad that he had been caught. All in all, however, this was a price we ought to be willing to pay, and whilst we didn’t get the feeling that Iago was teetering on the brink of sanity, he was cunning and convincing villain through and through.
Femi Nylander played the role of Othello with a quiet sincerity that skilfully carried the weight of the tragedy. As events unfurled, the strong chemistry between him and Desdemona came to the fore, stretching the tension strings to breaking point. Ellie Shaw captured the diligence and obedience of Desdemona, creating a lamenting contrast between her victimhood and Iago’s malicious manipulation of events. The climactic scenes were punctuated by much needed comic relief brought to us by Roderigo. Calam Lynch’s swift transitions from sadness to joy, from threatening to meek at the hands of Iago’s gentle persuasion were humorous, but more importantly believable. Emilia (Amelia Cherry), the oily hinge on which the drama swings with that fateful theft of Desdemona’s handkerchief, gave a strong performance and her soliloquy regarding the essence of friendships between men and women was a particularly poignant point in the play. This pared down production of Othello, with its engaging cast and beautiful outdoor setting, was thoroughly enjoyable from start to end.
‘Othello’ runs from 4th to 7th June in Christ Church Cathedral Gardens