Othello review: ‘mesmerising mix of old and new’

– Originally published in Indigo, a section of Palatinate in May 2016 –

Aidan’s College Theatre’s production of Othello began abruptly: the lights cut as the first member of the cast burst through the fire exit. This entrance provided the ideal opportunity to grab our attention, pulling us into the world of the Venetian army. Or, in this case, the British during the Iraq War. The relationship between Othello (Wesley Milligan) and Desdemona (Erin Lawrence) was believable from her first entrance, and Charlotte Thomas performed incredibly well as Brabantia. She commanded the stage in a way that was fascinating to watch and, when Brabantia fled the shame of his daughter’s match with Othello, it was sad to see her go.

These early scenes also brought one of the few issues with this production. For the first few minutes at least it felt as though the cast were warming into their roles and, sadly, the details of the dialogue between Iago (Adam Simpson) and Roderigo (Harry Twining) were difficult to catch. Delivered with great emotion, the length of their early utterances gave the pair a difficult task. The earliest scene changes also felt a little clunkier, with speed and efficiency increasing as the play progressed.

The use of music in scene transitions was admirable, however. The movement to Iraq was heralded by rap music, while the end of the play and curtain call brought its own theme music too. Despite the relatively lengthy time it took to change to the military set, complete with barbed wire and a Union Jack flag, the music made the transition seem part of the show.

Once the action moved to Iraq, the performances were flawless. It was as if putting on military uniform had brought the cast closer to their characters as they envisaged them, with Adam Simpson’s performance especially spellbinding throughout the remainder of the play. From his monologues standing on the stage edge, flicking a lighter or looking off into the abyss, he was the centre of attention for every minute he spent on stage. The lighting choices used at the end of the play assisted in the construction of this Iago-focused narrative.

In the preview, the director (Becky Wilson) told Palatinate Stage that ‘you’re almost seduced into being on the side of Iago.’ Almost? I, at least, felt as though Iago was the hero of the piece. The skill of the cast and crew in producing this impression is clear, with even the most treacherous man capable of appearing simply mischievous.

A visceral performance by Wesley Milligan revealed Othello’s soul, with his hurt and confusion laid bare for the audience to see. Milligan made the perfect Othello, able to move easily from the victim dealing with racial insults with fortitude at the start of the play to the wretched man he has become by its close. Othello’s agony changed everything around him, just as the performers hit their stride on arrival in Iraq. Performances by Milligan and Angharad Phillips (Emilia) were also especially strong, with the power of their displays of anger throughout the second half of the play.

This rendition of Othello was a mesmerising mix of old and new. Combining a familiar tale with the addition of modern warfare and modern drinking habits gave an extra layer to the performance. With impressive performances from all cast members and impressive achievements of the production team, Aidan’s College Theatre’s Othello is a must-see. You won’t regret it.

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