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Othello - GRADS

Updated: Jan 15

Reviewed by Paul Treasure

 

Perth, in the summer months, is blessed with a climate that draws us outdoors. We seek out beaches, we plan picnics and barbecues, but most blessed of all is we get to experience performances in the open air. We get concerts, we get movies, and we get Shakespeare! The New Fortune Theatre, which is basically just a converted courtyard in the Arts Building of UWA, is the perfect venue for Shakespeare. The space has limitations as to what can be realistically achieved with set or lighting, but these limitations serve to remove distractions and focus the audience’s attention on what is happening onstage. GRAD's current production of Othello is no exception to this, to the great benefit of the actors onstage. Director Thomas Dimmick has handled the venue with ease, using the opportunities for scenes and entrances from and amongst the audience with great effectiveness, dragging us into the action and making it even more immediate. And the sheer beauty of watching good actors act their hearts out, glowing from the soft light as though we can see their actual auras emanating, against the dark background of a clear, starry night, is a magical experience.


In the title role of Othello, Erik Bibaeff dominates the stage physically. His presence is keenly felt whenever he is onstage, and there is a very real sense of potential danger in his jealousy. As his wife Desdemona, Anna Weir counters him nicely. She is believable in her love for Othello, and her

unwillingness to believe that she is in actual danger is heartbreaking.


In terms of the number of lines and impact on the action, the largest role belongs not to Othello, but to the scheming Iago. There is a strong temptation to play Iago as a villain, but Tadhg Lawrence has gone against the grain and uses his natural charm to portray him as more of a narcissist. His Iago smiles throughout the show, and it’s not the surface smile of someone hiding his true feelings. This is Iago as an agent of chaos. We feel intently that he has decided to bring down Othello for a perceived slight in the past, and he is more than happy to bring the rest of the world crashing down around him to achieve his revenge, even at the cost of his own life. Tadhg is utterly compelling in the role and brings so much warmth and charisma to it that we can’t help but side with him in his plans.


Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid, is flawlessly played by Grace Edwards. There are moments where Iago and Emilia are in the background of scenes, and their inability to keep their hands off each other whenever they are near is very real. A hand on a shoulder or hip, a reach out to just hold each other’s hands, these gestures make us feel that these two characters actually love each other. As the play continues Grace plays Emilia with a growing disbelief that the man she genuinely loves, and who genuinely loves her, is capable of the plotting going on around her. At the end of the play it is perhaps Emilia’s grief over the death of Desdemona, rather than the death itself, that is the most heartbreaking, as Grace throws herself into the role with a bravery, ferocity, and near total abandonment that left me speechless.


The decision to cast and play the role of Cassio as a female was very interesting. Whether this was a deliberate decision by the director or the serendipity of casting the best actor who auditioned, this decision slightly altered the focus of the show and gave us many more layers to think about. As the play is written, Othello is part of a minority and is othered throughout the play by the other characters. In this production, Othello is not the only character onstage who is part of a minority, and many of Othello’s lines about Cassio now come across as homophobic. Actively demonstrating that just because you are the victim of one type of bigotry doesn’t mean you can’t also be capable of perpetuating other forms of bigotry. Krysia Wiechecki is exquisite in the role of Cassio. Her drunk

acting in the brawl scene is totally convincing, and the decision to place her at the front of the stage facing the audience while the scene plays out to its conclusion was a masterstroke. We can physically see the rapid shift of emotions play across her face as she is rapidly forced to sober up and realises, not only the ramifications of what she has just done but that she has let her guard down and played herself into the hands of those she should not have trusted.


The rest of the cast were uniformly good, although special mention must be made of the hilarious Patrick Downes. Patrick is hands down one of the best Shakespearean clowns in Perth theatre at the moment. The ease with which he interacts with the audience and takes them along on his ride is impressive. His scene with Sarah Thillagaratnam as the musician was a highlight of the show, as the pair of them had the audience in stitches and was a great release from the tension building up in

other scenes.


This is a production that deserves much more audience than it had the night we attended. It is an exciting and accessible production of a rarely performed classic that will leave you with much to think about on the way home.


Erik Bibaeff (Othello) and Krysia Wiechecki (Cassio). Image Credit: Grant Malcolm

Reviewer's Acknowledgement and Note: The reviewer’s plus one for the evening, Benjamin Small, was instrumental in highlighting some of the aspects of this performance that may otherwise have slipped the reviewer by, especially his insights into the othering of Cassio. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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