Friday, 5 December 2008

Othello (Lancaster University Drama Group)

If you've never seen it before, Othello is a great play, all about identity, ethnicity, gender relations - and, of course, misplaced trust and consequent jealousy. The 'green-eyed monster' looms large in both Iago (who has not been promoted, and is jealous (or at least envious) of Cassio, who has been promoted - by Othello) and Othello (whom Iago convinces has been cuckolded by his new, young beautiful wife, Desdemona - and Cassio). A tightly-woven plot! There are also those other famous quotations about loving not wisely but too well, and of course 'making the beast with two backs'.

A production of Othello stands or falls on the performance of Iago and his calculated revenge on Othello and Cassio (with the pure and loyal Desdemona (Eleanor Forrester) as the innocent victim; conveniently constructed as a sexual object). Iago speaks the most by far, needs to produce discreet facial expressions of twisted pleasure as his plan unfolds successfully, addresses the audience about what's in his mind, but all the while must not slip into melodrama. Paul Sellwood's Iago accomplishes all this (just managing to stay away from melodrama), and it is worth seeing this play just for his performance. As Iago's wife, Sarah Pearce is a convincing and tragic Emilia, who realises too late what her unpleasant husband is up to.

The production is characterised by a measure of gender-blind and race-blind casting: no surprises there, these days, except that Othello is played by the white Jon Coleman. The many references to Othello's blackness in the play are addressed by 'tribal' markings - seen first on Othello's face, and, as the play progresses, on his arm, back and chest - as Othello becomes further and further removed from a comfortable sense of himself as a successful Venetian general in a European setting. If there is a 'tragic flaw' here, it is surely naivete, but, more importantly, Othello's profound but underlying identity as (ethnic) 'other' can be seen as rendering him particularly vulnerable to Iago's lies. Jon Coleman takes Othello from a man of calm and dignity to the edge of jealous madness.
This student drama group production is well worth seeing. It is not perfect - some lines are spoken too fast, and others too quietly. It is a long play, but well-paced, as it moves towards its inevitable tragic ending. And the characters are convincing enough to make you start hoping that Othello just might see reason before the end, or that Desdemona might just demand proof of her 'guilt' or at the least escape back to Venice on a ship. But they don't, and the last scene (and Eleanor Forrester is to be commended on her dying) is a genuinely moving one.
Jane Sunderland
Othello continues on Saturday December 6th and Sunday November 7th, Nuffield Theatre, Lancaster University, 7.30 p.m.

Tickets are all £6.00, on the door.

Protesters Take Fight to Centros Office

On Monday 1st December, nine campaigners from Lancaster travelled to London to protest at the offices of Centros, the development company behind the plans for the Lancaster canal corridor shopping centre. (The protesters were not acting in the name of the Carnival of Culture, It's our City or any other campaigning group.)

Contrary to reports appearing in local media, the protest was orderly and peaceful. Whilst some protesters quietly held up a banner and handed out leaflets, four protesters locked themselves to one another, so that they could not be moved. They then proceeded to read out a list of questions to engage Centros' members of staff in a dialogue.

Protesters say that after having sat through the pretence of a council planning meeting, where most councillors (excepting the Greens) happily swallowed the often absurd claims made by Centros, they were disenfranchised by their lack of representation. Why, they ask, did councillors fail to seek answers to basic questions, such as: if this development isn't going to increase traffic, as Centros claims, why does it include a four-fold increase in car parking spaces?

Why did they let Centros claim this development would be good for the environment, on grounds that it would reduce shopping trips from Lancaster to Preston, whilst simultaneously claiming that the development would be economically viable because people from Preston, Blackpool and Kendal would be coming to shop here?

Why did they not challenge Centros' plans by pointing out how big developments like this threaten the already tenuous viability of independent local business?
Centros' proposals went unchallenged by any councillors other than the Greens, and those speaking in opposition had their points brushed aside.

Petitions, letters and the biggest march in Lancaster for a very long time did not make most councillors see that this development faces massive opposition; not even the removal of Ian Barker, the council leader who lost his previously safe seat in the canal corridor ward, which voted overwhelmingly Green - clearly a protest against this development - was acknowledged as a referendum against Centros.

This overthrow of democracy by the council planning office has left many people - including those who took part in Monday's action - feeling that there was no other alternative but to make a more direct statement to Centros - as they have considerably more influence over local planning decisions than local residents do.

Taking non-violent direct action (NVDA) has a long and valued history. From Gandhi to the Suffragettes to the civil rights movement to the anti-roads campaigners, NVDA has highlighted that critical mass point where overwhelming numbers of people recognise the need for democratic values to be reasserted.

As well as having a local impact, the protesters believe that, in the face of catastrophic climate change, developments like this which rely on unsustainable transport patterns and a continuation of over-consumption are nothing short of madness; in fact, they go against the government's own proposals to drastically cut CO2 emissions.

Furthermore it is blindingly obvious that the original economic predictions made for the development completely ignore the quantum change in the economy and the retail sector that has taken place in the last six months. Centros has acknowledged already that it is having difficulty finding stores that will commit to moving into the development - in a town that already has many empty modern town centre retail properties it is madness to attempt to double the city's retail capacity in the current downturn.

Articles in the press this week have called the protest an anti-development campaign; but genuine development must be genuinely sustainable, both environmentally and economically, and include the restoration of existing historic and structurally useful buildings, building sustainable and affordable housing, providing real green spaces, and ensuring that the existing city centre and its many small, independent shops remain viable.

Below is the text of the leaflet handed out to office workers and other people in the building.
For further info, please contact: 01524 383012 and leave a message, or email

Protesters' Statement to Centros

Centros... at the heart of urban degeneration...
Why are we here?
We've come to the offices of Centros today to peacefully demonstrate against the planned invasion of our town and our community by this development company.
Just as Centros has come to Lancaster and forced itself on our community, so we are now coming to Centros directly, to let them know we cannot allow them to destroy the environment and soul of our town. The development that is planned for Lancaster is almost half the size of the existing town centre. That means that either Lancaster town centre will grow by fifty percent, or that the old town, with many small independent shops, will rapidly turn into a ghost town. Neither option is acceptable.
Hundreds of people have taken part in protests against this development, and thousands more have signed petitions and voiced their opposition. But a debt-ridden council and a company based in London have decided they have the right to decide Lancaster's fate. We're here to tell them they don't.

Centros & Climate Change...
The reality of climate change is no longer being denied - the international community has recognised we need to act now to prevent massive and unprecedented world-wide destruction. If we take this threat seriously, developments like that proposed by Centros simply cannot happen.

It is inconceivable that developments that encourage car journeys and unsustainable consumption habits can continue in the face of global climate chaos. We need to start changing the way we live, work and consume, and the plans laid out by Centros epitomise everything we need to stop doing.

Real Sustainability...
Many other individuals and groups have offered their own visions of a truly sustainable and community centred regeneration for the same site. Real green spaces - not trees in tubs; local shops - not multinationals; sustainable transport solutions - not an almost three-fold increase in parking spaces and the destruction of existing cycle routes.
Centros needs this development to go ahead, because that's how it makes its money. Lancaster, and the planet, need this development to stop right now... and a truly sustainable alternative to be chosen instead.

Something's got to give...
The lives, jobs, health and well-being of the thousands of local people who would be directly affected by this proposal, not to mention the state of the planet, must take precedence over the short term interests of Centros.
Utlimately, we believe we have not only a moral, but also a legal right to prevent this development from going ahead; if we're going to stop climate change, we're going to have to stop developments like this.
Please visit the following sites for more information about other campaigns against Centros, the threat of climate change and the economic and social impacts of such developments: