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Review Round-up: Wire Duo Front Sheffield Othello

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The centrepiece of Daniel Evans' 40th birthday celebrations for the Crucible Theatre, Othello, opened last night (20 September 2011, previews from 15 September) starring The Wire detective duo Dominic West and Clarke Peters.

A number of national critics made the trip to Sheffield for the event, which also saw the founding artistic director of the Crucible, Colin George appear in the roles of Brabantio and Gratiano.

The cast also includes Ian Barritt, Alexandra Gilbreath, Gwilym Lee, Leigh McDonald, Rhodri Miles and Brodie Ross with particular praise lavished on young actress Lily James for her portrayal of Desdemona.

The production is designed by Morgan Large with lighting design by Lucy Carter and sound design by Alex Baranowski. Sheffield Theatres' Othello continues until 15 October 2011.

Daniel Meyers

"The Crucible has arguably trumped Northern Broadsides' casting of Lenny Henry as the Moor … Everything about this production of Shakespeare's tragedy places the focus firmly with the on stage talent. Morgan Large's lean and uncluttered set allows huge space for the cast to work … Peters lacks the sheer physical presence that Henry brought to the role … His portrayal of an ageing man… is superbly handled … West's Iago is superficially gregarious. His laddish persona and earthy Yorkshire accent perfectly mask the inherent evil lurking beneath … Manipulation is second nature to West's characterisation who watches with smug self-satisfaction as his dastardly plan takes shape before him … This is a very faithful and respectful staging … Neither actor ever attempts to upstage the other, or the rest of the very talented company. This is borne out by several other eye-catching performances notably Gwilym Lee as the honourable, but doomed, Cassio."

Dominic Cavendish
The Times

"What a strange but ultimately convincing Othello this is … Peters gives his Moor an African dignity and derangement that lilts into the Caribbean. The plummy West, who hails from Sheffield, gives us a coarse, broad-Yorkshire Iago … For a while, both men accent themselves into a corner … The tone in Daniel Evans’ production is hale and hearty. But it’s a bit loud, a bit effortful … West is superb … He delights in setting off Roderigo and Cassio (Brodie Ross and Gwilym Lee) against each other, or showing punchy affection to his wife Emilia (an excellent Alexandra Gilbreath). Peters is a strong flavour … He overdoes that derangement, as if Othello has to be full-on mad to do what he does … This Othello delivers where it really matters: in the bedchamber … James impresses as the doomed Desdemona … The show has its wobbles, certainly. Yet it’s never dull, increasingly potent, and feels shorter than its three hours-plus. The annus mirabilis of Dominic West goes on."

Paul Taylor

"Daniel Evans has pulled off a genuine casting coup … And he's done so without the least suspicion of gimmickry … But both Clarke Peters and Dominic West are seasoned stage performers … If Evan's urgent, lucid production isn't the most searching or detailed account of the play ever seen, it does go some way to presenting this tragedy as a contest … Peters has the right stature and seniority for Othello … Peters' performance exudes gravitas … West breaks the recent mould of anally repressed NCO martinets … The actor's achievement is to marry this manner to the chillingly hypnotic, manipulative power … There are moments here that freeze the soul … Lily James is a piercingly young and beautiful heroine … Partnered beautifully by Alexandra Gilbreath … This direct and engrossing production (the first time this tragedy has been programmed here) is nonetheless a mighty fine way to celebrate the Crucible's 40th anniversary."

Dominic Cavendish
Daily Telegraph

"It is quite a disconcerting leap that two key stars of the cult HBO series… have made … With a surprisingly traditional 'period' reading of the play … The night belongs to Iago. West has a knack for evil, clothing it in inconspicuous garb … Peters’s accent is less successful: a deep African solemnity … The evening rises to the right harrowing climax, helped by two terrific contributions from the ravishing Lily James as Desdemona and Alexandra Gilbreath as her culpable maid Emilia. Not great, yet, but plenty good enough."

Michael Billington

"What first impresses about this much-touted event is the direction by Daniel Evans … The play's central problem… is also partially solved by turning Cassio into a bit of a rake … Dominic West's fine Iago benefits greatly from the production's scrupulous attention to detail. West gives us a plain, blunt Yorkshire-accented ensign … I've seen more visibly malignant Iagos … Peters' flaw is he tends to act the emotion rather than allow it to emerge through the language … You have only to look to Alexandra Gilbreath's Emilia. She offers us a complete character … alongside Lily James' spirited Desdemona. But that is typical of the care of Evans's production. It looks good with an octagonal platform … And, although there is an imbalance in the central partnership, you get all the intensity of Shakespeare's most domestic and time-bound tragedy. Sheffield is lucky to have a production of this calibre."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"We may have a new star actress on our hands. Her name is Lily James … Poise, diction, allure - she has the lot … Never does young Miss James look or sound out of place … There is rather too much shouting in the initial scenes. Once Mr Peters gets going as Othello, things calm down … Mr West’s Iago has a Yorkshire accent and a pretty fair one at that … This is a production which accentuates the play’s heartier elements. At half-time it could almost go either way … In all this gusto there are a couple of duff notes. Iago’s wife Emilia (who is otherwise done well by Alexandra Gilbreath) gives her husband a distinctly 21st century “finger”. Oh dear. And Gwilym Lee is perhaps a little wet as Cassio. But otherwise this is a thoroughly watchable … The unusual degree of levity only makes the final tragedy all the harder to bear. As for Lily James, someone fix that honey a Hollywood agent, pronto."


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