|“Pride comes before a downfall”
by Tim Mottershead for remotegoat on 08/02/14
A pleasingly sizeable crowd turned up at Buxton Opera House on a cold dour night to see Icarus Theatre’s seven-strong cast deliver an intriguing version of Shakespeare’s Othello. The play is set against the background of Venetian fears of invasion by the Turkish army, and their concerns over the strategically important outpost of the island of Cyprus, which indeed is invaded during the course of the action. The key ingredients which ultimately lead to tragedy (including a liberal dose of coincidence) are introduced early on. When Roderigo becomes jealous on learning that Desdemona has eloped with Othello, Iago seizes the opportunity to use Roderigo as an instrument of revenge against Othello: Roderigo is despatched to complain to Desdemona’s father, whilst Iago scuttles off to ‘warn’ Othello of the impending trouble (of his own design). Roderigo received a rather camp portrayal from David Sayers, who hit his stride much more effectively later on in an accomplished depiction of Lodovico.
Given that Iago is the central antagonist, it seemed a pity that his reasons for putting himself against Othello (principally missing out on a promotion in favour of the younger less experienced Cassio) were given insufficient emphasis. Nevertheless David Martin gave a perfectly nuanced performance of the outwardly respectable, yet ambitious and inwardly scheming Iago. In fact it was in large part due to the credibility of his portrayal (unwittingly aided and abetted by his wife Emilia (Deborah Klayman)) which made Othello’s downfall believable: for his misplaced trust in the sly advisor he calls ‘honest Iago’ (even as he seeks to ensnare him in a fabricated cuckoldry) which puts above his own instincts and feelings – towards Cassio (Julian Pindar), and more particularly his new bride Desdemona (Holly Piper) – ultimately allowing his pride to outweigh any other considerations.
In an unusual take, almost the entire cast played stringed instruments throughout the production…except Othello – presumably to underline the fact he was an ‘outsider’. Whilst this was a musically impressive feat in itself, and didn’t necessarily detract from the unfolding plot, it did seem an overly heavy-handed piece of symbolism, and did become something of an irritating affectation over time. In any case this was unnecessary as Gary Stoner not only brought the requisite gravitas to his Othello, but provided a physically commanding portrayal as well, not least in the play’s genuinely moving conclusion.
The production’s elegantly constructed set effortlessly transformed itself into the various scenarios, including that of a ship. The Icarus tour of Othello directed by Max Lewendel (in tandem with Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler) continues over the coming weeks and months.