THE BIRMINGHAM MAIL
THE EXPRESS AND STAR
Sometimes a familiar story can seem wholly new, and Birmingham Stage Company’s Othello is so gripping that the almost three-hour traffic of the stage passes by in an instant.
Its pre-1914 setting, with brisk army officers carrying out their duties in a foreign land, suggests an era of decency and correctness that both the marriage and the murders deeply offend. Much of the success is down to Cyril Nri’s sensitive playing of the Moor and Neal Foster’s performance as Iago, a cunning psychopath who takes gleeful pleasure even in the exposure of his deception. He is a performer with an actor’s armoury of moves and gestures, a villain able to change the dynamic of any situation.
In a single scene, an Othello relaxed and easy at his desk is brought to his knees and then to the floor as Iago goes in for the kill. Nri is almost bashful at first, displaying the softer side of the confident soldier as he tells it with a smile.
He is beautifully paired with Rebecca Santos as a Desdemona so buttoned-up and decorous as to be almost gauche - evidently the daughter of a good family and consequently making a startling match. The shock of being called whore makes her hyperventilate.
There’s an outstanding performance too from Emma Christer as Emilia. Her open countenance and clear, almost staccato delivery is just right for the plain speaking for which she finds courage in the final scene. A must-see, Othello transfers to the Bloomsbury Theatre, London for a four-day run.
Authentic Othello is an anniversary smash
OTHELLO remains one of Shakespeare's greatest plays, an emotional roller coaster exploring jealousy, malice and race seen largely through the eyes of an apparently motiveless villain.
Why so many directors choose to try to reinvent Othello in a novel or clever way is therefore baffling.Perhaps it is misplaced ego which makes them think they can improve upon the original. Or maybe they feel some phantom artistic pressure to do something new and different. Either way such urges to tamper are almost always proved wrong.
Thankfully this excellent anniversary production by the Birmingham Stage Company resists such temptations and remains commendably loyal to the script and atmosphere of Shakespeare's original despite setting the action against the bleak backdrop of the First World War.
Cyril Nri (Othello) and Rebecca Santos (Desdemona) are compelling as the tragic couple, with Nri increasingly impressive as the play progresses and he recreates the 'hero's' emotional and mental breakdown.
But it is the company's founder Neal Foster who steals the show as the malevolent Iago.
Foster seems determined to extract every ounce of humour and innuendo from Shakespeare's script, creating an Iago which is even more sadistic and psychotic than the norm and leaving the audience in no doubt that this is truly the bard's ultimate villain.
The company's slapstick interpretation of Iago's dialogue with his foolish fop Rodrigo also injects some welcome light comedy into the otherwise heavy atmosphere, helping to create a perfectly balanced evening of entertainment.
The direction is fantastic, as is the imposing set which brings to life the baron, minimally decorated stone palace in Cyprus as a perfect backdrop for the action to unfold.
This is a truly authentic feeling and entertaining Othello which puts some recent interpretations at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to shame. A fine way for the Birmingham Stage Company to celebrate 15 years in the business and a must see for true theatre fans.