Saturday 10 February 2024

Othello - Review

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Ola Ince

Ken Nwosu and Poppy Gilbert

With the action being set in 2023 London, this take on the Moor is more Moorgate than Venetian. And with most of the male characters being played as Metropolitan Police officers, Shakespeare’s dialogue has been liberally butchered too. Countless references to “Scotland Yard” and exclamations of “Guvnor!” make the evening feel like a badly written episode of The Sweeney that drags on for an excruciating 3 hours.

In trying to make this troubling tale of treachery, jealousy and racism accessible, director Ola Ince has cheapened the original. Mangling the Bard’s prose with contemporary slang not only disrespects the verse, it blunts its beauty. Shakespeare's early, subtle and nuanced and expressions of love are trampled by this treatment, leaving the plot hard to follow for those unfamiliar with the story. And while this may be the Wanamaker Playhouse with its famed candelabras, far too much of the play’s time is inexplicably wasted lighting, hoisting and snuffing out the flickering flames.

Struggling to break through the crackle of the police walkie-talkies punctuating the show, Ken Nwosu makes a decent attempt at the title role with a passionate performance. Equally Ralph Davis as Iago is appropriately villainous, and (what should be) the play’s final scene does prove surprisingly moving. Poppy Gilbert as Desdemona (or Desi as she’s frequently referred to in another act of textual carnage) saves her best for her swan song.

Ultimately this production is little more than a thinly-veiled attack on London's police force. While the Met may be a flawed institution for a variety of reasons, to clumsily denigrate it on the back of Shakespeare's verse is lazy politics and equally lazy theatre. Ince should try writing or directing an original piece to make his point about the cops. His corruption of Shakespeare's writing kills both the argument of the original, carefully crafted text as well as his more contemporary beef against the police. 

And of course, at the end, Othello gets tasered. Natch....

Runs until 13th April
Photo credit: Johan Persson

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