“Play It Again, Iago” – Othello As Film Noir

Othello (Stephan Adegbola) Desdemona (Gillian Saker). Photo by Mike Barlow

Othello (Stephan Adegbola) Desdemona (Gillian Saker). Photo by Mike Barlow

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.

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