NOTE: This review dates from March 2004 and an earlier tour stop for this production.
Cheek by Jowl's Othello, directed by Declan Donnellan is, quite simply, one of the most enjoyable Shakespeare evenings I've had in a long, long time. I don't think I had realised until I saw this production, just how leaden and ungainly the interpretation of Othello normally is. Here we are presented with a light, quick moving, impassioned portrayal of the man of action and war coping with an honest wife, a lying confidante and a jealous rage fuelled out of control.
The staging is simple - a few boxes covered with drapes, some simple stage props and the odd piece of furniture - enough to give us levels and shapes but still leave the stage free for movement. And the cast of 14 certainly know how to make use of the space.
Whether moving individually or in groups, providing static images or circling each other like prowling animals, the pictures they create draw us into the dialogue which is mercifully not over-projected or heightened. Indeed, with few exceptions this is a quiet piece building out of Iago's machinations yet at no time was the audience straining to hear or follow the play.
Jonny Philip's Iago is utterly convincing, one almost wants to boo him during the curtain call! Nonso Anozie's Othello is skilfully controlled and allows the vulnerability of the character to shine through despite his enormous physical presence on stage. The sheer difference in size between Anozie and the diminutive Desdemona (Caroline Martin) is used to great effect and the strangulation scene truly heart stopping.
The confidence of the direction is evident throughout the production with characters using the full width and depth of the stage carrying dialogue right to the back of the auditorium and drawing us inexorably into the space. A space broken down on many occasions as the interplay between the characters takes place.
A real ensemble piece providing Shakespeare as it should be seen; accessible, fast, absorbing, moving and pure delight.
- Robert Iles (reviewed at Oxford Playhouse)