Abraham Popoola Othello Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano and Christopher Bianchi Duke of Venice Gratiano. Photo: The Other Richard
Othello (Abraham Popoola) and Desdemona (Norah Lopez Holden) are getting married in secret. It’s a Muslim ceremony and Desdemona has learned the Arabic vows. Once the ceremony is over Othello swaps his Muslim prayer beads for a crucifix in a symbol of his public vs private self and an inner conflict to come.
His Othello has a presence from the outset. In a brilliantly nuanced performance he is a noble warrior – a leader who has earned respect – and a man bowled over by passion and love and not afraid to show it. Norah Lopez Holden is a young, spirited, fun and witty Desdemona who has captured his heart. There is an ease and playfulness in their relationship which makes the early lines that hint of what is to come land all the harder.
Speeding the lovers on their way to tragedy is Mark Lockyer’s superb Iago. It is a performance that exudes from every eyebrow twitch, gesture and look – even when he has his back to you (it is staged in the round) his body language speaks volumes. And yet this Iago isn’t played as comedy villain, a Machiavellian rubbing his hands together with glee; I’ve seen actors play Iago's lines for laughs, Lockyer plays them straight, any mirth contained in them is entirely on the audience to find.
His Iago is reasonable and contained, convincingly earnest, his true feelings burst out of him in private temper, soothed only by plotting. With those he is trying to dupe he comes across as quite ordinary and trustworthy which makes him so effective - and so dangerous. While Iago can contain his true feelings in public, Othello can't. His public displays of affection towards Desdemona are easily channelled into pride, self doubt and jealousy. As comfortable as he is with his affection for Desdemona it, ironically, is his Achilles heel in his battle for self control.
The rest of Othello’s command are younger, laddish, cocky, primed for a battle that is over, it is almost too easy for Iago to use his age and experience to manipulate them. Piers Hampton's Cassio is one of the lads, a charming ladies man - enough to plant seeds of doubt in more than Othello's eyes - his redeeming features are loyalty and trust albeit a tragically misplaced trust.
This is a fresh, energetic, passionate and gripping production from the opening scenes where factions lines are drawn and energies find a destructively playful outlet. It is also a production of outstanding performances from Mark Lockyer's Iago to rising stars Abraham Popoola and Norah Lopez Holden, both of whom are not long out of RADA.
It's 3 hours long including an interval and I'm giving it four and a half stars*. Catch it at the Wilton's Musical Hall in Aldgate until June 3. This production was originally staged at Bristol's Tobacco Factory.
* A note about Wilton's. It was my first time visiting and it is a charmingly characterful venue but for this production choose your seats carefully. There are lighting rig towers at each corner of the stage and only the back rows on the north and south blocks are raked. The stage is quite low so if you are short of stature I'd opt for front row or the back rows. I was at the end of a second row and had both the lighting rig and two people in front obscuring my view - it did spoil my enjoyment a little. It was also quite cool in the auditorium so take a jumper.