There’s something a little special about seeing a Shakespearean classic amidst the ruins of the Rose Theatre. Well, above them, anyway. To know the words, the characters, lived on stage on this spot hundreds of years before you yourself are hearing them... is somewhat magical.
Custom/Practice’s Othello reaps the advantage of its setting this way, with atmosphere added by sheer virtue of the site of performance. But, boy, is it darn cold in there. And take a pillow too, if you’re not a fan of sitting on solid wood for 90 minutes straight, because there are times in this production when your attention is going to wander, and it’s then that you wish you were sat a little more comfortably.
This particular abridged version of the tragedy has flashes of excellence but is marred by an overall plot device: Iago as a prospero-esque manipulator. Yes, Iago’s manipulation is a sight to behold in the original text, but here he is made to be more than that. Lighting cues and entrances are conducted by his hand, he is an all too literal puppet master. The humanity – the choice – of the leads, of Othello and Emilia and Desdemona is taken away from them, their destiny lies in the hands of Cary Crankson’s swaggeringly bitter Iago with far more certainty than it ought to. The danger of condensing such a play into 90 minutes is also seen in the odd effect of Othello going from blissfully married to essentially killing his wife for lack of a handkerchief within minutes. There isn’t enough Cassio (also well-played by Bradley Taylor) to counter, or indeed explain, this.
The cast however are generally excellent, and with the help of Suba Das’ direction, make great use of a small working space. Dan Jones’ lighting design plays intelligently throughout and, indeed, the small space is not a hindrance at all – instead, becomes a feature itself by creating an intimacy with the characters, especially in the tragic final scene.
A nod has to go to Nana Amoo-Gottfriend for his intensely passionate performance as the great man, Othello, himself. Emily Randall acquits herself very well as the traitorous Emilia. Plaudits of the production, however, go to Richard Kiess for his brilliant Roderigo, providing excellent comic relief against the backdrop of trauma.