Othello, Ludlow Castle, Shropshire
Thursday 01 July 2010
Othello may have been roasted in sulphur and washed in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire in the climactic carnage, but the rest of us were quietly drenched to the bone in slow-down sheets of liquid rain.
That long, chaotic fifth act exposes the vocal limitations of Christopher Obi's otherwise lithe and plausible Moorish general, as well as the under-populated background of Ben Crocker's production; the Cypriot harbour and streets seem as desolate as a wet Wednesday in Bognor Regis.
By that time, however, Damien Matthews has earned his spurs as the duped lieutenant; it's one of the great strengths of Crocker's staging that Michael Mueller's Iago is as hot in pursuit of Cassio's job as he is of Othello's destruction. And, as in any good performance of Iago, Mueller never once makes you doubt his malice or his motives.
Despite the out-of-hours brawls ("Put up your bright swords, or the dew will rust them") and triumphant fanfares, Othello is really an indoor play, but Crocker spreads the action with commendable bravura against both the castle walls and Philip Witcomb's striking sculptural design of cascading bed frames around a tilting gilt doorway and red curtain.
And Mueller drives the plot with verbal virtuosity and sinuous energy: the "put money in thy purse" snaring of Charlie Walker-Wise's Roderigo is a masterpiece of malevolent matey-ness. Obi's Moor, too, is sucked in like a fly, though his ascent into frenzy and madness, let alone sensual despair, is a bridge too far.
The costumes, sashes and medals suggest the Crimean War, and Thomas Johnson's fine music has a tang of the Levant, both jaunty and melancholic. Emily Pennant-Rea's Desdemona in bonnets and crinolines is a surprise, but she constructs a strong, affecting reading; the poor darling must have caught pneumonia in her rain-sodden nightgown, stifled and soaked to death.
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