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ARCHIVE PAGE FOR - Othello (Stratford 1999)

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Play by Shakespeare. Directed by Michael Attenborough. Designed by Robert Jones. Lighting by Peter Mumford

'O beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it foods on'

Festering sexual jealousy and racial conflict. Playing in the RST for the first time since 1985.

Cast includes: Richard Cordery (Brabantio), Henry Ian Cusick (Cassio), Ray Fearon (Othello), Aidan McArdle (Roderigo), Richard McCabe (Iago) and Zoe Waites (Desdemona).

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon: Previewed 9 April, Opened 21 April 1999. Closed 7 October 1999
BARBICAN Theatre, Previewed 16 December, Opened 6 January 2000, Closed 8 April 2000

Extracts from the reviews (London Opening):

"...The greatest excitement of Attenborough's over-methodical, Edwardian-styled production, which got respectful reviews in Stratford, comes from watching two men wrestle with dark forces they cannot control. The second greatest excitement is in the casting. Ray Fearon is the first black actor to play Othello on the RSC's main stages in over 40 years: though young for the part, he attains a commanding, stricken grandeur. Swaggering in brocades and sashes, head shaved and beard jutting, this strapping soldier exudes the kind of potency that's bound to annoy Richard McCabe's podgy, resentful Iago... It takes time to get going. The Edwardian setting seems to inject stuffiness and stolid over-enunciation into the Venetian scenes, although it adds class-consciousness to the tensions of race and sex already simmering... Fearon descends into a writhing, spitting confusion that is terrible to watch, and McCabe becomes ever more sweatily desperate. Designer Robert Jones drops ever more canvas drapes onto the stage, hemming Othello in at Desdemona's deathbed. For all this, Attenborough's meticulousness makes the final scenes drag. This RSC Othello lacks the inexhorable pace the story needs: what it does have is a sophisticated, subtle Iago and a powerful, affecting, black actor in the lead role. And about time, too." The London Evening Standard

Extracts from the reviews (Stratford Opening):

"...[Ray] Fearon, just 31 years old, shaven-headed, bearded and with a gold stud in his right ear, gives a creditible performance. He is a fine actor. He speaks clearly, blinks alarmingly into his own predicament. But he never scales the heights as a journeyman tenor when the role demands a baritonal, awe-inspiring vocal rush... Everything about Michael Attenborough's production is fine until the last act. Then, with a tedious Emilia and an operatic failure of collective nerve, the play simply dies on its feet... As usual the satanic Iago steals the show, and in this instance Richard McCabe does so with a performance of truly brilliant comic invention and verve... And until the interval you really feel you are seeing something as well done as the recent productions by Trevor Nunn and Sam Mendes. But as in both of those revivals, Othello finally lacks the killer punch, the soaraway power of the truly great actor. We still need Michael Gambon." The Daily Mail

"Othello's, like policemen, seem to get younger and younger. In Michael Attenborough's extremely fresh and involving new mainstage production , set in the early 20th century, the Moor of Venice is played by a bearded, shaven-headed Ray Fearon. He is an actor who, only a couple of seasons back, made a big impression with his charismatic Romeo. And therein lies the rub... the painful impact of the play is blunted if you level the age gap between Othello and Desdemona (here a fine, mettlesome Zoe Waits) to that between Romeo and Juliet. Indeed, Attenborough has had to cut the text to accommodate Fearon's conspicuous lack of maturity... Competent, watchable but hollow and vocally monotonous, [Fearon] never arouses the requisite anguished embarrassment in the audience. At his most impressive, tellingly, when he's stripped to the waist, he fails to suggest a man despearetly struggling to cling to a grandiose self-image that, thanks to Iago, he has begun to doubt... The production none the less has energy, tension and many smart staging ideas... Above all, the production boasts Richard McCabe's splendid, sinisterly comic Iago..." The Independent

"Whose play is it? The Moor's or Iago's? In Michael Attenborough's decent, fitfully exciting revival, the first on Stratford's main stage in 14 years, the evening belongs to Richard McCabe's Iago: what one misses is the delicate balance of opposing forces that can make for a truly great Othello. .. Attenborough sets the play in a militaristic neo-Edwardian world. Venice is all wing collars and high-backed chairs. Cyprus feels like a British colonial outpost with soldiers in red tunics, Desdemona in a muslin dress and army bands playing in the distance: as in Much Ado, it strikes me that Shakespeare understood the peculiar danger of the aftermath of conflict when leisured afternoons are filled with malice and mischief. But it is the military context that gives resonance to McCabe's wonderfully observed Iago... In an ideal world Iago's envy finds its foil in Othello's jealousy: they should, as in Mendes' production, be two interdependent figures. But, although Ray Fearon is a perfectly capable Othello, he lacks seniority and weight. You should feel Othello's insecurity springs not only from race but from the gap in years between himself and Desdemona: here they look much the same age and maul, grope and paw each other so lasciviously in public, it becomes difficult to accept the sudden eruption of Othello's jealousy. The second half, in particular, lacks credibility McCabe aside, the production's strongest suit lies in its feminist emphasis. Zoe Waites' Desdemona is no wilting moppet but a strong woman capable of 'downright violence' in marrying the Moor and of vehement retaliation when accused of whoredom... But, although the production is alert to sexual politics and is fluently staged in Robert Jones's light, airy sets, it never quite engulfs us in overwhelming passion." The Guardian

 
 
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