Weather forecasts predict another dip in temperature at the end of this month but at least Corpus Christi College should remain warm, thanks to the heat being generated by the Owlets new production of Othello. It is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and this version is adapted and directed by Francesca Petrizzo. Rather excitingly she has done away with the very thing that, for most, defines the play. Her Othello is not black. The play is not about race or national identity, she says. It’s about fighting the enemy within.
Overlooking the racial aspect means focusing on the intricacy of human relationships and the fragility of ego that form the subtext of this play. Any scholar of Shakespeare, or fan of Othello as it was originally written, will already have a grasp of the wonderful complexities beneath the surface of the play. Likely, they will not yearn for the overt issues of race that come with a black Othello but will eagerly embrace the opportunity to reinvestigate this play without the overpowering influences of racial prejudice. There is a risk however that anyone who has not seen or read Othello before will sense that something is missing and this may come across as a lack of substance.
The cast are talented, not to mention disarmingly attractive. Alexander Stutt plays the villain Iago with fierce energy. In his speeches, Stutt’s voice rises and falls, reaches crescendos and drops back down; it is alive with the passion of Shakespeare’s words. Stutt’s control of voice at first seems at odds with his frenetic movement of body and jittery hands but it brings so much to light about the character – Iago, a master of control, seems unable to control his own actions. In vivid contrast, Moritz Borrmann as Othello is stiff in body and voice, a consummate soldier. He speaks with confidence, volume, and speed (perhaps too much speed at times) but there is much less variance in his tone, and more stillness in his demeanour. Iago weaves his words and movements – much as he weaves his web of deceit – but Othello is stoic, strong and not easily moved. Sophie Ablett is a very pretty little waif as Desdemona and Amelia Sparling demonstrates the heartbreak of Iago’s wife Emilia in one look. Across the board, the cast fearlessly embrace their roles – and sometimes each other, when required. Passionate kisses between Othello and Desdemona and between Iago and Emilia are so full on they almost feel awkward to watch. Similarly, the violence done to the women is depicted in a way that doesn’t seem to pull any punches.
With a daring edit and good casting the forecast is for an intriguing, and enjoyable, production.