Shakespeare’s tale of the jealous general is primed with corruption and dripping with deception, so it seems like film noir should be a perfect fit. Yet the first half hour of this gimmicky production is disorienting and off-putting as the elements butt up against one another.
Are we watching gangsters in the 1930s or soldiers in medieval Venice? Does the Bogart-style posturing make any sense with all the regional English accents? And is Desdemona meant to be a femme fatale?
It’s only really when you start to forget about the fedoras and trench coats and tumblers of bourbon that you realise this is actually a substantial and brilliantly-acted production.
A note-perfect lead performance from Stefan Adegbola and cracking support from everyone in the cast make this a staging well worth seeking out. And as the focus shifts from the panoramic politics at the outset of the play to a painfully intimate chamber-piece, the nervy self-consciousness of Rebekha Fortune’s direction evaporates completely, leaving a truly hard-boiled story that just doesn’t need any frills. This Othello emanates dread — like a walk to the electric chair.
Othello: the Moor of Venice is on at the Riverside Studios until 8 February 2014.
Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.