This refreshing re-interpretation of Shakespeare’s Othello sees the handkerchief drama played out from a female perspective, a comedic take on the tragedy that we’re used to. Indeed, it benefits from the stripped-back cast, shining light on those three female voices that are so clearly overshadowed in the original text. This production fosters this intimacy by embracing the small venue; while the space could be awkward for such a limited audience, the actors fill the space with gusto, letting their physical proximity heighten the sense that ‘they’re all in bed together’.
It is a bit of a shame that this adaptation distracts from the human heart of the play by dressing it up in a seemingly arbitrary Jazz-Age theme. While the New Woman idea does stir up the theme of sexual freedom, it ultimately comes off as an attempt to glam-up a play that doesn’t really need glamming-up. The beauty of Paula Vogel’s re-interpretation is that it takes the domestic kernel of Shakespeare’s classic and teases out the inter-female conflicts that arise from living in a man’s world. However, the 1920s costumes marked a lack of confidence that this premise could stand alone; the audience does not need to see a feather hairband to know that women can be sassy, thank you very much!
The choreography however is sleek and sophisticated, understated but eye-catching enough to justify the mime aspect of their adaptation, even though the facepaint was a little inconsistent with the flapper dresses. The play opens with Bianca turned away from the audience, positing her as the secret mover behind the action, the silenced possessor of the eponymous handkerchief; it was clever directorial decisions such as this that kept my attention. There were times towards the end that the mime expressions – a lot of Chaplin-esque looks of wide-eyed surprise – grew a bit tired and disconnected, and by the final section I was crying out for them to face each other. Having said that, the acting was undeniably engaging, with special mention to Emilia, who really captured the complex vulnerabilities behind the bawdy mistress.