Guy Hollands' adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello marks the return of the Bard's play to the Citizens Theatre for the first time in almost forty years.
To a backdrop of smoke wafting from designer Philip Witcomb’s stark, sliding-wall set, Iago, Andy Clark – in-demand after critically-acclaimed success at the Edinburgh International Fringe – begins to spin his web of traducement and deceit; enmeshing the audience in a degree of complicity with winks, warped smile and idiot gaze.
Othello Jude Akuwudike, dressed similarly in paramilitary garb of black shirt, cargo pants and Dr Martens, exudes a compelling presence, whilst Desdemona Sarah Hawarth is the gamine, virtuous wife. Akuwudike as Othello turns in a powerful performance as a formerly confident, self-contained man, tortured and destroyed by the insinuations and innuendoes of his ensign, Iago.
Through costume and design, the production draws parallels between the racism exhibited by Iago and Brabantio Billy Mack towards Othello, the 'lascivious Moor' with 'thick lips', and more current events – in this play of 1602, it is the white, Iago, who is the embodiment of evil.
Despite its faithfulness to the script, the variety of accents within the cast are something of a distraction – Othello's 'plummier' tones seem somewhat at odds with those of his wife, whilst Iago's accent seems curiously to slip on occasion.
It is Witcomb’s set, rather than the dialogue itself, which streams this production from scene to scene and is undoubtedly the smoothest and slickest aspect of the evening.
Whilst the actors turn in a largely, solid performance, it seems difficult, nonetheless, to engage and empathize fully. Consequently, Hollands’ thoughtful production is one which doesn't quite perhaps hit the mark. Overall, it feels that the play's three-hour duration could have been reduced by at least a third without significant detraction or loss.