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This production is the centrepiece of a wider piece of work called The Othello Project, curated by Abdul-Rehman Malik – a series of bespoke, multi-art events in response to the production, to provide a platform to some of the most exciting Muslim artists and writers working in the UK today. The project is co-produced by English Touring Theatre, Oxford Playhouse & the Tabacco Factory.


 

When you think Othello, what comes to mind? The Moor? The Monster? A black man? Poor Desdemona? Seldom has the play ever conjured up images of the Moor, the Muslim. English Touring Theatre’s Othello at the Lawrence Batley Theatre does just that. The poster for the show is Victor Oshin in his stage debut as the titular character, which he does great justice to, holding his hands up in prayer in the style of the Islamic du’a and is initially what caught my eye.

The show opens with Othello laying down a prayer mat as he invites Desdemona to sit with him; they recite Arabic scriptures and make a promise to marry one another with Othello holding his wife and joyfully rejoicing ‘Ameen’. Sadly, this is one of the very few times we ever really see an emphasis on the Moor’s faith, or explore his perplexed and divided relationship with Islam and Christianity.

Brian Lonsdale as Roderigo was energetically hilarious, his Geordie accent endearing and making him feel so relatable; but it’s Correia’s stalwart performance of Cassio that supports the show. Paul McEwan’s Iago did not really work for me at the beginning; I did not see the insidious, conniving ‘friend’ plotting against the General, but rather simply a delivery of the script; however, this quickly turns around in the second half where we witness the evil Iago in full force.

The remaining cast was strong, often merry and amusing, whether it’s a quasi-erotic drunk party where they perform a full-on dance sequence, which got heaps of laughs but sadly no audience applause; or in Cyprus where Montano plays the drum and sings in his native language as everyone revels, all cultures represented in Othello were no doubt explored, African, Turkish, Venetian.

And murders: it’s Othello, so there were plenty of killings, expertly pulled-off (complete with fake blood) and a great use of stage combat. And while the set was minimal and simplistic, it was complimented by the complex world in which it was staged, and the hypnotic sound design by Giles Thomas did much to enhance each scene.

Although Othello’s faith isn’t explored to the extent that I had wished, it’s still promising to see the production is being thought of in this way; the fringe events surrounding the production should help shed light on some of the contemporary relevances of the play, as well as the Muslim artists and writers making up this landscape.

As a Muslim I felt represented in the production, for in order to combat racism, islamophobia, hate and ignorance, it is so important to acknowledge real history and to show Europe has never been a stranger to people of colour or other faiths; and what better way to translate this history to the masses than through something as quintessentially English as Shakespeare?

  • Samran Rathore

Cast & Crew:

Othello – Victor Oshin

Desdemona – Kitty Archer

Brabantio – Christopher Bianchi

Cassio – Philip Correia

Montano – Naby Dakhli

Duke – James Ellis

Soldier/Senator – James Godden

Bianca – Hayat Kamille

Roderigo – Brian Lonsdale

Iago – Paul McEwan

Emilia – Kelly Price

Lodovico – John Sandeman

Director – Richard Twyman

Designer – Georgia Lowe

Lightning Designer – Matthew Graham

Composer and Sound Designer – Giles Thomas

Fight Director – John Sandeman

 

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