Sunday, 16 July 2017

"Green e-yd Monster": Othello at Shakespeare's Globe



Thursday 20th April 2017 Matinee Performance.
Sam Wanamaker Theatre.

"Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! 'Tis the green e-yd monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds upon." - Act 3 Scene 3

We'd heard from a fellow classmate that the production took some "modern risks, such as Katy Perry," beforehand. At the time, I wasn't too sure about how to respond to that, as my goal in going to see Othello at Shakespeare's Globe was to gain knowledge of my Shakespeare A Level text ahead of final exams in the manner it would have originally been performed. Nevertheless, this is a production that if it ever returned to the Globe, I'd be in the queue rushing to buy multiple tickets - that's how good it was.

I don't have the greatest track record with live theatre. Having attended a lot as a young child, as I entered high school that drifted into nothing, and before Othello, the last theatre production I'd seen was the tour of the West End production of The Lion King back in 2013. 

Like any theatrical production, Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read. And Othello is a play where the clues are in the staging. There is staging interally and externally of the play, and seeing it live was to me essential to understanding Iago's influence. Also, whilst Shakespeare was a master of the written and spoken word, there's a serious lack of stage directions within his plays. How a line is interpreted can differ from one reader to another, which again is why it needs to be seen not read. My opinions may change when I see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child next month, but in my eighteen years, I don't think I've ever witnessed something as hauntingly beautiful as the opening scene of Othello. From the second that candles lowered from the ceiling and were gradually extinguished to a lulling choral rendition of Video Games by Lara Del Ray, I knew that I would love this production. Such an opening - starting at the end of the play to the bodies of Othello and Desdemona lying on a bloody bed - initially threw me off entirely,  and I was stunned by how McDougal chose to cut straight to the chase and start at the end in a cyclical structure. Nevertheless, it was a powerful decision. One of the beauties of Othello is that due to the audience's consistent alliance alongisde Iago, dramatic irony means we always know of the destruction that will inevitable come under Iago's tyranny. Here, claustrophobia stiffled into suffocation, and as an audience we were smothered with the painful awareness of what a brutal conclusion would transpire.



Admittedly the most fitting phrase to describe this production hails to the Guardian's review, calling this saga a "candlelit tragedy," and nothing could be more perfect. Several scenes, particularly following the pivotal turning point of  Act 3 Scene 3, were enacted with the characters moving across the stage with Elizabethan-style candlesticks, allowing the flames to dance and burn along with their own ignited rage. Once again, spending these 2.5 hours in the darkness only lit by chandeliers and small flames added to the claustrophobic atmosphere, but also strikingly symbolised Othello's final motives in killing Desdemona; a woman who is sees as simultaneously villainous and pure in his dubious line of "put out the light, then put out the light."

McDougal's interpretation of the play certainly blurred the lines of acceptability in Elizabethan times and modern losses of stigma in a questionable manner, effectively diluting some of the important motifs and themes of Othello. The two key cases of casting which impacted on these ideas was in how Emilia was portrayed by a black woman as well as Michael Cassio was now Michelle Cassio, and the relationship between Cassio and courtesean Bianca was LGBTQ+. These depictions kept the play current, and appropriately fitted our modern day, increasingly liberal society in a beautiful orchestration. However, they also detracted from the essential point of Othello. For example; how does it seem like a plausible motive for Iago to cause so much destruction on the grounds of Othello's race when he is married to a black woman? And how has a woman made it into such high realms of power in Venetian society, when as Brabantio remarks, women are seen as "maiden[s] never bold"? One can argue that Ellen McDougal's direction of Othello was far more feminist and diverse than the original play that Shakespeare wrote, but that simultaneously raises issues of detracting from some of the key themes of the play. These most notably include gender politics, double standards in men and women (particularly in the grounds of Cassio and Bianca). 

Overall, the company and cast behind this production brought Othello back to life like a reignited match to a candle - slow-burning and exceptionally dark (both literally and figuratively). Each and every performance perfectly aligned with the characters Shakespeare had so carefully crafted, but through modern elements added a harrowing glimpse at how the events which transpire in Elizabethan Venice and Cyprus do have the means of still occuring in a present day world where racism, sexism and homophobia still run deep in some veins of society. As I said before, I couldn't be more glad for academic as well as theatrical purposes, that I got to experience this play, not only through being in the room, but through being in a seat where occasionally characters were so close and even spoke to those in our row. If McDougal's production ever returns to the Globe or the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I'm sure I won't be the only avid Shakespeare lover who rushes to purchase tickets.

1 comment:

  1. Othello was one of the plays I didn't get to study in high school. That year, we studied Hamlet instead.

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