When it was announced that The Everyman had decided to cast a woman as the conflicted Moorish General, Othello, I was intrigued. The play is overflowing with issues that are as relevant now as they were in Elizabethan times, so is adding the gender twist somewhat over-egging the custard?
There is a book that tells you how Shakespeare should be spoken but like adding an accent that all actors have to deliver, this can sometimes get in the way of the connection the actor and audience need to have with the character. The first scene opened with breakneck delivery which challenged the audience to attune their ears and actually understand what was being said. That, coupled with the ‘in the round’ staging, where actors have their backs to you for some of the preceding, meant that hearing the lines was tough work too.
Othello (Golda Rosheuvel) was not given a chance to endear herself to the audience before the plot to drive her into a jealous rage began, nor did she have the bearing of a soldier, especially a General. However, her performance was strong as she struggled to know who to trust amongst her men. Othello is killing her own countrymen in order to fit in, in the country that took her as a slave, so although she appears confident, you can tell she is very insecure and conflicted about what she is doing. Golda puts this across well as she slowly disintegrates into insanity.
I have used the words ‘she/her’ above but The Everyman have not changed the text to call Othello a ‘she’. This hints that Othello is, in fact, transgender in this version. It is not spelt out but is just there, which I liked very much. Othello marries Desdemona (Emily Hughs) against her father’s wishes, raising issues of racism and homophobia. Desdemona is painted as bisexual, which brings me to a sticking point. I am bisexual and I’m often stereotyped by others as being promiscuous, so the fact that Othello was so easily tricked into thinking Desdemona was having an affair, just re-enforces this stereotype. Emily plays an innocent very well and you do feel for her character when Othello excuses her of her misdeeds.
The Everyman made this Iago’s story. Iago (Patrick Brennan) is almost a pantomime baddy. It is a shame that the complexities of his character were not explored more before we are sent off into the plot, where he remains quite a flat portrayal. I can’t even remember why Iago decided to hatch his plot because of this.
The Everyman’s repertory company worked incredibly hard, in what was a long and emotional play. I especially enjoyed Cassio (Cerith Flinn) and Bianca (Leah Gould) for their honest performances and Roderigo (Marc Elliot) for his comedic touches.
I don’t think this was director Gemma Bodineta’s finest hour. It reminded me of a grade five piano student that has forgotten the dynamics of the piece and is banging it out in Fort, just to get through it. Looking at the reviews people either love it or hate it. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but what it did do is make me think about the issues involved and for that at least it succeeded.
Sharon has worked in education for most of her life. In 2001 she helped launch a theatre group in Hampshire focusing on the local community. Upon moving back to the North West, Sharon launched Make it Write, an organization dedicated to help new writers particularly writing for performance.