On Thursday, 27th September, College A-Level English students visited Harrogate Theatre Royal to see English Touring Theatre’s raw insight into the world of Shakespeare’s ‘noble Moor’, Othello.
The set was simple yet effective, composed of a series of vertical fluorescent strip lights surrounding a raised platform stage, which was used for a multitude of settings including Desdemona’s chamber, the barracks and a storm-wracked ship. The minimalist staging allowed the actors to be the centre of the action. The simplicity of Desdemona’s bedchamber, with its yoga mat, pillow and candle evoked a sense of foreboding whilst the storm off the coast of Turkey was powerfully created by the cast, through physical theatre and ensemble movement. The creation of Othello and Desdemona’s wedding celebrations was particularly effective as the company formed a tableaux, clutching balloons , confetti and glittery streamers to evoke a celebratory atmosphere. The opening moments of the play movingly re-created the marriage of Othello and Desdemona, as they exchanged their vows in Arabic, clearly heightening the sense of Othello as ‘other’, and the stigmatism directed towards a Muslim in a predominantly Christian society.
Highlights of the play included the symbolism of the strawberry spotted handkerchief and the mirroring of key moments in the plot. There was clear chemistry between the young actors portraying Desdemona and Othello, which increased the poignancy of the final tragedy. College I found Iago’s subtle manipulation of Othello particularly malicious and convincing. Emilia’s devotion to her mistress contrasted well with her husband Iago’s betrayal of his master. Emilia’s feisty disposition was a welcome relief from the play’s suffocating, and at times testosterone-fuelled atmosphere and we embraced her as a strong feminist in a patriarchal world. We also responded to the chilling parallels of racism in contemporary society and religious prejudice displayed towards the protagonist. The death scenes were particularly graphic and shocking.
The physical affection evident between Desdemona and Othello in the early scenes of the play was starkly contrasted with Desdemona’s frantic struggle as her husband attempted to strangle and suffocate her in the final Act. We were moved by Othello’s evident suffering as he attempted to kill his wife, highlighting the fact that Othello’s fatal flaw, jealousy, blinded his judgement and led him to commit the ultimate evil. The repetition of ‘Honest Iago’ created a strong sense of dramatic irony. This was an intense, emotional introduction to our Shakespeare set text.
– College 1 English students