REVIEW: Cambridge University’s Marlowe Society’s Othello - good enough to make your blood boil

PUBLISHED: 00:48 30 January 2020

Christopher Deane as Othello and Georgia Vvvyan as Desdemona in the Marlowe Society production of Othello at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picure: VARSITY

Christopher Deane as Othello and Georgia Vvvyan as Desdemona in the Marlowe Society production of Othello at Cambridge Arts Theatre. Picure: VARSITY

Archant

I bet they argued in the tavern about it in 1603 when it opened. It could have been called Iago because he, the villain of the piece, is the ringmaster. And his weapon is violence against women.

Othello is a play that has been annoying people for 400 years.

I bet they argued in the tavern about it in 1603 when it opened. It could have been called Iago because he, the villain of the piece, is the ringmaster. And his weapon is violence against women.

He manipulates all the other main characters to their downfall. To do that, to control their emotions, he must control his own. He says as much: "We have reason to control our raging motions."

Good as he is, and with strong stage presence, Bilal Hasna's Iago could be even better if his Iago were smoother. He has to convince everyone how genuine and sage he is - including the audience - but we have seen his bursts of anger. It's a character choice but all the evidence is that Iago's anger is buried deep, repressed into bitterness not volcanic.

This is the story of a couple whose marriage is a leap into the dark. Desdemona, a spirited and beautiful young woman of Venice high society, is beguiled by a war hero, a soldier who knows nothing of domesticity but is good at telling stories. He knows he has won her with his tales of his bravery and his travels. He is more interesting than "the curled darlings" she usually meets.

He can't believe his luck. So he does believe the lies that Iago tells. And it's pathetically easy for Iago to convince Othello that his new young wife is being unfaithful.

Iago makes Othello jealous and Iago understands only too well about jealously and the torment it brings because he is jealous of most other people in the play.

Iago despises Othello, (a terrifyingly powerful Christopher Deane) as a foreign upstart. He regards Lieutenant Casio (a natural and understated Chris Dodsworth) as a Florentine - a softy who knows nothing of war. He bitterly resents Othello having promoted Casio over him, Iago. And he regards the rich fop Roderigo (an amusingly camp Jamie Bisping) as just a fool who deserves to be tapped for money.

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Good old, honest reliable Iago - whose real identity is known only to himself, weaves a plot to bring down them all.

The women, Desdemona, Iago's wife Emilia and the camp follower Bianca (a feisty Sophie Atherton), are merely pawns in Iago's revenge for his imagined wrongs.

These are all strong performances in an ensemble production directed by John Haidar which brings out the soul of the play. With a simple set and in modern dress, the human tragedy reaches out from the stage.

There are exemplary performances from Georgia Vyvyan and Anna Wright as Desdemona and Emilia, one could not wish for better. Both actresses show an eloquent range of lightness, before their characters are overcome with shock, outrage and grief - that is moving without ever going over the top.

The madness and mayhem are foiled well by the solid sanity of the characters of Lodivico by Oliver Jones, Brabantio, Jonny Wiles and Montano by Ben Galvin.

We are forewarned of the tragedy right from the start. The Venetian court is outraged that Othello the Moor, an outsider, has wooed and secretly married fair Desdemona. Surely he must be punished for taking advantage of a daughter of the city. But no - he is an army general and he is needed to fight the Turks - so not only is Desdemona's family's horror brushed aside for the purposes of the state - she is allowed to go off to war with him.

Nothing changes does it. Women's welfare is barely considered.

Yes the play will go on annoying people - that's the genious of it. And this production is full of energy and vigor and fresh as when the ink was barely dry. The plot was an outrage then and it's an outrage now.

Othello, presented by Cambridge University's Marlowe Society, will be at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, February 1.


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