Theatre: Desdemona deserved it...
DESDEMONA THEATRE ROYAL, BATH
Tuesday 25 August 1998
She berates her servant Emilia (Alexa Kesselaar) with all the tantrums of the wealthy Sloane and adores Bianca for being a New Woman - economically independent and free to give herself to any man she chooses. But when Bianca comes to pay Desdemona her cut, the cheeky working girl punctures the illusion by declaring her desire to marry Cassio, retire from the game and raise children, stating in her rich cockney patois that "all any woman wants is a smug [a husband] and kids".
When she produces the handkerchief given to her by Cassio, Desdemona pounces on it as the one she has lost. Bianca's dreams of marrying and settling down vanish as she concludes that Cassio is amongst Desdemona's bed-head notches.
At this point, the play could draw to a close. It has made its point about how girls of means with private education can mythologise the seedier side of life (what might be called Band of Gold Syndrome). Vogel has set her cat amongst the feminist pigeons by suggesting that all women really want is a man and a family (a suggestion not too far from that implied by the antics of post-feminist icon Bridget Jones and her sisters). And having taken a sideways look at Shakespeare's play, there is really no need to embark on the long, winding and anticlimactic path to reinsert Desdemona back into the original story. We all know what's going to happen - or should do from the Othello synopses littering the foyer - and the meandering end therefore serves to satisfy only those with an obsessive tidiness and dislike of loose ends.
Desdemona is rich in intellectual conceit for an audience so inclined - we can give a knowing snigger when Desdemona describes herself as "the sort that will die in bed". But director Kate Brooke does not present the comedy with a gentle touch.
Sophie Walker's performance veers between Felicity Kendall on speed and Miranda Richardson's Queenie in Blackadder. She is a spoilt brat, and most people would happily wring her neck even without the incentive of blood-curdling jealousy and an incriminating handkerchief. Meanwhile, Rebecca Jackson's Bianca is a near-parody of Oliver Twist's pal Nancy, a solid cockney girl with the bellow of a fishwife. It is a credit to Ms Jackson that she can conjure up pathos in such a cartoon caricature as she bemoans the loss of the idyllic cottage to which she and Cassio were to escape.
The problem with presenting such material in the style of a cheap farce, rather than allowing the humour in the lines to do the work, is that it all too easily releases the genie of idiot laughter. Suggest to an audience that this is burlesque, and they will hoot like owls in a nitrous oxide factory at anything. It all tends to obliterate any of the work's finer and more contemplative points, reducing a play with potential to a cheap slapstick cartoon with the depth of a Croft and Lloyd sitcom.
Runs until 5 September. Box office: (01225) 448844
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Cheeky' Nando's under fire for apparently coming onto a customer on Twitter
- 2 Saudi Arabia mosque bombing: Two volunteer security guards hailed as heroes for stopping Isis suicide bomber reaching worshippers
- 3 Playboy model April Summers speaks out about being a victim of revenge porn
- 4 There is something wrong but very right about this Bible illustration
- 5 iPhone 'effective power' text: how to be safe from iOS bug that lets people crash your phone
Jay Z's Tidal could be about to lose Beyonce's music in ultimate humiliation
Royal Academy of Arts' Tim Marlow: Bronze statue of lovers embracing at St Pancras station is a lesson in 'how not to do' public art
Britain's Hardest Grafter: Petition set up as Twitter reacts to BBC 'poverty porn' series pitting low-paid workers against each other
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'