Lyric Hammersmith (venue)
14 October 2018 (released)
14 October 2018
Othellomacbeth, the current production at the Lyric Hammersmith, is an interesting experiment which seems not to produce what it sets out to produce, but which leaves one with a sense that there is unrealized potential in the idea behind it - as it is, what remains is an excellent production, definitely worth seeing despite its fall from high ambitions. What remains, is two well-acted and well-staged, modern-dress versions of Othello and of Macbeth, one following the other, and each using almost entirely the same cast. The two plays remain very much two separate plays, each retaining the integrity of its story.
Of the two, Othello is the more unique and more successfully adapted, both in terms of structure and staging. In part, with Othello this is easier because the play is in itself has a more focused plot than Macbeth, so easier to reduce to essential elements. But the result here deserves credit for what it has achieved. The story is set against a minimal but all-enclosing metallic backdrop which works remarkably well to focus thoughts and action on what happens in the space before and beneath it, the play moves to a quick-pace , rapidly and easily between each sequence which are signaled by combined light and sound. Kirsten Foster as Desdemona and Ery Nzaramba as Othello each give authentic, passionate performances, as do Sandy Grierson as Cassio and Melissa Johns as Emilia, and Samuel Collins deserves special note for his exceptionally engaging Iago.
By the time we get to Macbeth, it's as if the energy which went to focus and drive Othello in its fast paced way, has run out of steam and we have a more diffuse, both visually and in terms of plot, and more conventional line of action. One could also see small signs of the pressure on the actors of this double-bill. In Macbeth ,Sandy Grierson does shine in the lead role, as does Samuel Collins once more as Macduff.
At the end of the plays, the audience is left appreciating each but wondering what the point was of juxtaposing them. This leaves an unfortunate sense of something missing and detracts attention from the achievement of both plays. Although some ploys were used to try to make thematic connections between the two plays, these appear artificial and irritating, clearly imposed from the outside and not drawn from the interior reality of the play. The genuine connection which the audience feels, if left alone and not told what to feel, is the continuity of feeling between Othello and Macbeth. The feeling is of passions unleashed, manipulated, misguided, misused, misspent and turned to violence. As the "larger" of the two plays thematically, Macbeth is not only about a personal trauma but about a trauma of State, a political trauma. Macbeth in his paranoia has created a state of spies and continual murder to protect his position. In addition to the fall of two powerful protagonists in each play through some form of manipulation, there are other connections. There is a natural line of development from the purely personal tragedy of Othello to the both personal and State one of Macbeth. It's something which might have been used as a line of development between the two. In any case, the individual performances here, despite lack of a rationale for connection, are well worth watching.
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