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OTHELLO – The Rose Theatre, London.

OthelloAn inspired modern retelling of a Shakespeare classic, Pamela Schermann’s Othello offers up the original 16th century text with modern authenticity.

Reduced down to its five central characters, Othello gets off to a pacey start and maintains the momentum thanks to action-packed scenes and an impressive cast. The opening section of Shakespeare’s original material is gone, and instead Schermann’s story picks up after Othello (James Barnes) has left Venice to command Venetian armies – Or in the case of this modernisation, to lead a team within the corporate environment of a London office. Omitting vast chunks of the original text works brilliantly; cleverly bringing us right to where the action is without dampening the context.

When we are introduced to Iago – a disturbing yet enthralling character played energetically by Trevor Murphy – he is likeable and charming. His underlying obsession with Desdemona soon emerges and manifests itself into a destructive and egotistical jealousy. Schermann urges us to relate Iago’s hatred of Cassius to the modern day tendency to be obsessed with success in the workplace, prepared to go to any lengths to achieve it. A valid comparison, but it isn’t the transference into the modern setting which makes this production fly. Instead, it is the intelligent grasp of the material by the director who is able to cut right through to the drama, and an accomplished cast who bring these characters alive so beautifully.

The shallow, drafty space of the Rose Theatre has an eerie quality which works well for this production, with the sound and lighting design working cleverly with the limited means at hand. Simple red rope lighting bursts out for the final scenes to indicate trouble ahead which is all that is needed, combined with Iago’s unsettling murmurs, to fill the small, rather chilly audience with anticipation. Some of the action is even spread into the distant excavation space behind the ‘stage’ area of The Rose, ensuring that Cassius’s attack is enshrouded in uncertainty, the resolution to which we don’t discover until the very end.

Recently graduated Samantha Lock shines as the adored Desdemona. Able to convey disbelief, confusion, adoration and believable innocence all in one look, Lock prevents Desdemona from seeming naïve and is able to harness our compassion.

With a dramatic, perfunctory ending, Othello finishes with a bang, much like it began. Every single element of this production works together, seamlessly bringing something fresh and exciting to this tragedy which has been reworked so many times over the years. A very enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes…providing you remember to bring your blanket!

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Reviewed 05/02/2015

By Caroline Cronin

3rd – 28th February 2015
The Rose Theatre, London, SE1 9AR.

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