Guildford Shakespeare Company's production of Othello is a masterfully intense exploration of paranoia, jealousy and betrayal.
Othello has always been one of Shakespeare's most remarkable works. Essentially it's a simple story; trusted officer, Iago, is passed over for promotion by Othello, in favour of Cassio, and sets out to destroy Othello through psychological manipulation, making him believe that his wife is unfaithful. A word here, a suggestion there, a planted handkerchief and Othello's trust in his loyal wife Desdemona crumbles. What sub-plots there are, such as Roderigo's puppy-love for Desdemona, are all part of Iago's web of deceit leading to the eventual tragic outcome.
Chris Porter's Iago is a wonderfully smiling villain, charmingly duplicitous and convincingly sociopathic. It's a tremendous performance, never oversold or underplayed. David Carr is majestic as Othello and entirely believable in his growing jealousy and suspicions of the relationship between Cassio and Desdemona. Nicole Hartley gives Desdemona a sweet, slightly naive air, oblivious to her husband's growing suspicions. Matt Pinches' Cassio is honest and straightforward, traits that enable Iago to easily manipulate him. Young Roderigo (Christopher York) is almost a comic character in his unrequited love for Desdemona, again making him malleable and trusting. Iago's deceptions are the bullets he persuades everyone else to fire.
Caroline Devlin's production moves the action to the 1950s, the Cold War providing a perfect storm of political paranoia and suspicion, and the ancient rivalries between Greece and Turkey as prominent as they were in the 17th century, with Cyprus the meeting point for conflict. There are some wonderfully innovative touches too. The use of Commedia del Arte-style masks, music, dance and exquisite effects are beautifully realised.
The venue, a lovely spacious, echoey church, provides an ethereal atmosphere with lighting and sound (Declan Randall and Matt Eaton) heightening the feeling of impending doom. As does the performance layout - a stage area is at either end with a walkway down the centre, the audience seated either side, right at the middle of the action. The only downside to the venue is that the church acoustics occasionally make it hard to catch the dialogue and the dual stages mean that the audience is sometimes doing tennis-match head swivelling to try not to miss anything.
Great play, fabulous cast, beautifully realised. Bravo to Guildford Shakespeare Company for another brilliant production.