It takes a hell of a show to reignite your love for theatre as though you were a child watching your first play, but Claire van Kampen’s Othello summoned the most pure essence of wonder I’ve felt in years. The production was effortless, natural, and utterly sincere; from its opening minute to the close, the world outside truly ceased to exist, and reality was that of the 17th Century.
Othello has been performed time and again, in numerous iterations, set in pretty much every era and location, yet this time around it found its home in a society we’ve rarely seen on stage – Venetian society of the 1600s as it might actually have appeared. Cosmopolitan. Not just white. As such, the tensions within the play were caused by personalities, ambitions and jealousies, rather, the content of a person’s character, not the colour of their skin. It was of no particular note that the Doge was female, nor that Iago’s wife was black – these were simply people inhabiting this world.
Whilst the narrative follows the story of Othello, it felt as though a world existed outside of this particular story. The pub scenes were raucous; the music intoxicating, people beyond those we heard from lived amongst those we did. The cast involved the audience so completely, that before long, nobody was afraid to laugh when it was funny, gasp when we were shocked, or cry when the occasion wrenched it from us (or react as necessary to a pigeon doing what pigeons do best). The unflappable cast was collectively astounding. Mark Rylance was at the top of his game, inhabiting a dangerously timid Iago, a man so ‘honest’ you barely noticed his trickery. His villainy was not apparent; you’d trust him with your life, even knowing how this story ended. But Rylance was not the standout performer, even at his most magnetic – simply, the rest of the cast rose to match him. Steffan Donnelly was a wonderfully foppish Roderigo, near enough forgotten by Iago, while Cassio was so deftly portrayed by Aaron Pierre. This was apparently his professional theatre debut. Go and see him while you still can for a fiver – it won’t be for much longer. Jessica Warbeck’s Desdemona wasn’t a timid, oppressed woman, but fiercely loyal and tragically undone. André Holland was exceptional. Speaking in his native accent, dripping with charm, and somebody who you would follow to your death, Holland’s Othello was electric.
The cast was not alone in creating this production, however – there was the costume department who helped to build this world (particularly Othello’s gorgeous coat), a choreographer who tempted us to our feet, and a composer who lifted our spirits. This composer also happens to be the director, Claire van Kampen, who brought this troupe of cast and crew together to wondrous result.
I’ll stop waxing lyrical now, although I could continue indefinitely, and simply implore you to try and get a ticket if you haven’t already – although that might be easier said than done. If this is what Michelle Terry’s Globe is going to look like, long may she reign.