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Othello, Warwick Arts Centre

A relevant contemporary English Touring Theatre (ETT) production by a youthful cast that throws a powerful, poignant punch.

Production photos by Helen Murray

This modern-dress English Touring Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Othello directed by Richard Twyman holds quite a few surprises up its sleeve.

Opening with an Islamic wedding, Othello is covertly Muslim in a Christian culture. An outsider from the outset. He secretly marries Desdemona without her father’s knowledge. The pair are kneeling on a prayer mat in what looks like a dimly-lit abandoned car park – the bare stage is boxed-in by Georgia Lowe’s impressive light design.

Originally performed at Bristol’s Tobacco Factory in February 2017 to 4 and 5-star reviews the acclaimed production included superb Coventry-based actor Katy Stephens as Emelia (soon to appear in Nick Walker’s new  adult Christmas panto Over the Top at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry). With a new cast, this UK tour, co-produced by Oxford Playhouse, now approaches the end of its run.

Tall, muscular Victor Oshin makes his professional stage debut as a calm, centred and boxing-loving Othello, alongside petite RADA graduate Kitty Archer’s Desdemona in jumpsuits and trainers. Their honeymoon period romance is delivered with affectionate youthful spontaneity as Desdemona chases her new husband around the stage, tickling him, and jumping on his back like a child, refusing to let go.

Othello’s manipulation by the older “honest” Iago into questioning Desdemona’s playful flirtation with the suave captain, Cassio – Philip Correia – seems particularly cruel here. His jealously ultimately leading to shocking scenes of murder and suicide.

As this year’s ‘A’ Level syllabus includes Othello, press night had a large student audience.  A stylised hedonistic feast scene in which debauched, sweary soldiers dance manically in a balloon-strewn nightclub, one in a fake conical bra, attracted much amusement.

Paul McEwan’s master of spin, Iago with his sarcastic Northern sensibility, is frequently seen cleaning up after the party, directing the action from the side of the stage – and taking pleasure in seeing it all kick off.

At one point the stage is transformed into boxing ring with Othello at the losing end of Iago’s psychological warfare and verbal punches. Throughout, white fluorescent light strips enclose the stage,  flickering on-and-off, disconcertingly.

Kelly Price also gives a strong performance as Emilia – her unwavering loyalty to her mistress’s innocence is admirable. There’s a lovely scene of female camaraderie where the two women stay up drinking after a dinner party with Desdemona singing in Arabic and walking barefoot across the dinner table. My favourite quote of hers, on men: “They are all but stomachs, and we all but food. To eat us hungerly, and when they are full, They belch us.”

A culturally relevant contemporary production, ending with powerful, poignant scenes that make you catch your breath.

Othello runs at Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick campus, Coventry, until Sat Nov 10,  warwickartscentre

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