It’s hard to adapt Shakespeare, there is such a strong audience vision of how the play should be produced and how it should be portrayed, but it’s safe to say that Joe Pape’s ‘Othello’ manages to pull off this production with flair.
The staging was relatively non-existent, and although this could hinder the creation of an atmosphere, it meant the actors had a versatility within their performance space. This allowed the stage to become whatever they wanted it to be, and Pape utilises the pre-existing elements of the space to their full effect. The lack of staging benefitted the show in that it allowed the audience to be further immersed in the performances of the actors and led to less distraction. It also meant the production was allowed to include more modern elements, such as the costumes, that didn’t feel out of place and made the play more contemporary, and almost allowed it to feel like a setting the audience would be familiar with within in our society.
Given that the staging was bare and the other elements of production relatively scarce, the play was almost entirely driven by the acting. In the title role, Abbah Kel Jackson’s performance really commanded the audience’s attention as he managed to warp perception of Othello throughout the show. Whilst he started off as appearing powerful, yet calm, as he loses his power he becomes menacing, and yet he smoothly transitions into evoking pity in the final moments of the play. John Broadhead’s Iago was an equal match in stage presence however, which made it almost hard to dislike him as the main antagonist. The comedic undertones of his sinister manipulation of the cast of characters serve as a point of tension throughout the play in a power struggle, which he rarely fails to dominate. Together, the two performances really carried the show, with both actors having good chemistry between them in their convoluted relationship, culminating in the final battle of wills in Act Two.
Pape manages to retain the essence of Othello within his adaption, maintaining a fast pace throughout which makes it hard to lose interest and allowing the tension to finally build up to its peak. The choreography within the fight scenes was impressive, sometimes conflict on stage can almost feel underwhelming in that it looks too rehearsed, but here they were well-assembled fights which felt genuine from the actors and allowed the ending to feel as dramatic as it was intended. Although there was a point where a dead body was dragged across the stage for such a prolonged period of time, it felt almost comical in a moment that was perhaps meant to feel much more serious.
Pape’s ‘Othello’ is thoroughly entertaining from the very beginning, stripped back within its staging as Pape acknowledges the thoroughly character-based nature of the narrative, the audience is allowed to wholly focus on the characters, their motivations and their actions with the swiftly moving plot retaining the full attention of the audience throughout. Accessible to Shakespeare enthusiasts and those experiencing it for the first time, it’s well worth a visit.
‘Othello’ is showing at 8PM, 17th-18th November at Leech Hall in St John’s College.