Othello (St. Leonard's Church, Shoreditch)

Benjamin Blyth’s production of the Shakespearian tragedy opens the two part winter season at the St. Leonard’s Church

Shakespearean company Malachite Theatre return with another nostalgic production at old St Leonard’s Church, aiming to bring a more Elizabethan experience to modern audiences.

The church is thought to be the resting place of many of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the great bard’s original company, including original Othello Richard Burbage.

Malachite’s last production dealt with the anti-Semitism of The Merchant Of Venice and with Othello, the great tragedy of the Moor also of Venice, racial discrimination is the elephant in the room. Our heroic general (Jude Owusu) causes unrest after secretly marrying Desdemona (Danielle Larose), director Benjamin Blyth taking full advantage of the altar to make for a wonderful opening marriage scene. But the flurry, largely caused by Desdemona’s father Brabantio (John McEnery) and her hopelessly effete suitor Roderigo (Alexander Stott) is silenced as Othello’s skills in warfare are needed in Cyprus to stave off an invading Turkish army,

By this time the machinations of arch-Machiavelli Iago (Martin Coat) are well and truly in full swing as one of Shakespeare’s most celebrated tragedies comes to a head, teaching us important lessons about that deadliest of human emotions – the green-eyed monster.

While our two protagonists Othello and Iago impress, Owusu in particular is suitably stately and noble looking in the role, the chemistry between the pair feels somewhat understated.
The energy of the performance rarely lets, however, from the drunken Cassio (Paul Giles) and his relationship with Bianca (Zoe Zambrakis) to the final stand-off.

And special mention should go to Larose, for her passionate heroine, and Orla Jackson‘s Emilia for some measured delivery concerning the misplaced handkerchief. Another nice touch is the use of a grand piano played by Clown (Joseph Miller), our assumed host.

The trade off with atmosphere for acoustics remains a problem with anything staged at the church but you’d be hard pressed to find an experience quite as memorable. Yet it’s a shame that some of the poetry is simply lost in the cavernous interior. Shakespeare purists will adore this thoughtful three-hour production with 15-minute interval, but others will find sermons easier to endure.

Othello is Malachite’s first in a two-part winter season of plays to be followed by King Lear, where acting heavyweight McEnery returns to play the regal fool.