Jealousy. Shakespeare referred to it as the ‘green-eyed monster.’ Green certainly drips from the set and lighting design in Bell Shakespeare’s latest production of Othello as the Bard’s Moor falls victim to the green-eyed monster and finds himself turning into one.
For the story, simply cast your mind back to the haze of Year 11 English. Don’t fret, all you Shakespeare-shunners, it’s a bloody cinch. Othello, the Moor of Venice, promotes this guy Cassio to Lieutenant, which really pisses off his second-in-command, Iago. Othello also secretly marries the love of his life, Desdemona, which really pisses off both her father Brabantio and little doe-eyed Roderigo who can’t get enough of her. From here, through the power of manipulation (and alcohol), Iago turns Cassio and Roderigo against each other before setting his sights on the Moor. By sneaky placement of Desdemona’s handkerchief, Iago seeks to prick Othello’s jealousy by making him think Desdemona’s been shacking up with Cassio. It kinda works. Let that be a lesson for anyone in a relationship, always hold on to your hankies. Anyway, as with any Shakespearean tragedy, a lot of shit goes down, blood gets spilled, bodies start piling up and jealousy does indeed become a monster destroying everything it its path.
Due the sparseness of Michael Hankin’s set and the overall lack of technical trickery (aside from clever imaginings of Cassio’s drinking binge and Desdemona’s sleeping quarters), a production such as this relies heavily on the quality of the performances. Fortunately the majority of the cast delivers. Ray Choo Nee’s take on the Moor initially paints a subtle, sweetly charismatic romantic completely besotted with his better half (an excellently poised, peace-keeping Elizabeth Nabbe.) Unfortunately some of this subtlety disappears in the production’s bloated second half as Shakespeare’s language get lost among the Moor’s oscillating and unstable emotional contour and some performances veer towards melodrama. Taking on the duplicitous Iago, one of Shakespeare’s most dastardly villains is Yalin Ozucelik and he positively devours the smorgasbord of a role. Using Rodrigo (a wonderfully naïve Edmund Lembke-Hogan) and Cassio (Michael Wahr) as his personal chess pieces, Ozucelik’s Iago revels in his Machiavellianism without overplaying it. Props also to Joanna Downing for instilling warmth and in her Emilia as well. It is solely up to the actors to maintain the energy throughout and unfortunately some pacing problems and wasted moments of tension disrupt the sagging second act.
Although there’s a loose naval warfare thread and some modern touches here and there, something doesn’t quite hang together in Peter Evans’ direction, which lacks cohesion, clarity and freshness. The world presented is one of unease and claustrophobia (reflected in some eerie, shadowy pillars) but the vision doesn’t quite feel realized. With flecks of brilliance and some consummate performances, Othello threatens to truly take off but never quite gets there.