DTR - Reviews of Othello: an all-female production

Othello: an all-female production

Thu 6th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Laurie Atkinson

at 09:16 on 12th Aug 2015

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Smooth Faced Gentleman's all female Othello dashes onto the stage of Udderbelly Potterrow with a breathless energy that is both refreshing and enthralling. Proving that Shakespeare at the Fringe doesn't have to be shit-faced, this intelligently staged and carefully abridged production merits 80 minutes in the schedule of any busy festival theatre-goer.

Shakespeare against the clock is a tall order, but director Yaz Al-Shaater makes every minute count. Chief among his innovations is the use of six eight-foot shutters mounted on trestles, which whizz about the stage to serve as everything from a bar to a balcony to a bay window, effortlessly evoking with their striped shadows the play's Cypriot warmth. With a snap, the shutters establish a pace aptly matched by the vigorous company, but that never lapses into the mania which so often plights abridged classics. Only the turn of Othello itself is in any danger of feeling rushed, however Al-Shaater seems to have chosen to embrace this textual challenge in all its startling difficulty. The figures of Othello (Anita-Joy Uwajeh) and Desdemona (Helen Coles) onstage, until Iago's (Ashlea Kaye) doubt-mongering rarely disentangled, now repel each other in sudden revulsion. "Away!" cries Uwajeh, and the spiral begins.

Yet it is Terri Reddin, in her more unassuming role as Brabantio and numerous additional parts, that threatens to steal the show whenever she is onstage. Her immaculate timing and inventive foolery characterise a production that, in its first half at least, invest the text with a light-hearted comedy that always amuses, but which never trivialises the tragedy.

But why the all female production? What's the hidden agenda? None it would seem. The Smooth Faced Gentlemen should be commended for a distinctive production that refuses to become embroiled in the gender politics it invites. Instead, the all female cast bring to the play a freedom and fluidity the envy of any Shakespearean company.

Few perhaps will make the trek to the Fringe with the intention of seeing Shakespeare. Yet this matinee at the Udderbelly cannot fail to impress. "How poor are they that have not patience!", but none is needed in this production that thrusts, betrays, and has you back in George Square in time for lunch.

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Simon Fearn

at 10:49 on 12th Aug 2015

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If you’re looking to see some Shakespeare at the Fringe, you can’t go wrong with Smooth Faced Gentleman’s production of Othello. It was fresh and imaginative, with the young all-female cast easily doing justice to the well-loved tragedy.

Running at just an hour and ten minutes, Othello copes well with being drastically shortened, and the abridgements simply add to the show’s lightening pace. Clunky changes of scene are avoided with a versatile set, consisting of six moveable blinds, which proved an effective backdrop to the drama, and complemented the play’s themes of suspicion and concealment.

The greatest success, however, was the cast’s performances. The undoubted highlight was Ashlea Kaye’s tremendous turn as Iago. Her stage presence was such that your eyes were drawn to her even when she was just a bystander, and her blank, narrow eyed expression as she watched Othello and Desdemona together captured Iago’s insidious envy.

Another great touch, which many productions of Othello miss out on, is that you could tell why everyone was flaunting the epithet ‘honest Iago’. It was clear to see why so many characters felt Iago was on their side, and the audience could no longer charge them all with being irredeemably gullible.

Othello himself was also great, and Anita-Joy Uwejah captured his innate decency as well as his jealous rage. Played out across Uwejah’s face was the bite of the early racism and the conflict over whether to believe his new wife or trusted friend. It was gut-wrenching to watch Uwejah’s ready smile become increasingly hollow as Iago’s lies began to take hold.

Of the supporting cast, special mention must go to Henri Merriam’s confident performance as Emilia, although Terri Reddin as Brabantio and Hannah Morley as Roderigo were very comic but less convincing. Helen Coles gave a great performance as Desdemona, but failed to capture the steely independence of a woman who marries a much older man behind her father’s back.

This production pushed all the right buttons. The hilarious, well-choreographed drunken brawl received raucous laughter, whilst there was a collective gasp as Iago murdered his wife. Only the final scene between Othello and Desdemona fell a little short of its dramatic potential, but it was still heart-breaking.

All in all, the show was easily comparable to more established productions of Othello, and probably better than quite a few of them. It quickly ceased to matter which of the women were playing male roles, as they all gave completely captivating performances. This is an Othello that will linger in the memory, and Kaye’s subtle performance as Iago is tremendous.

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