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.
Tickets are all £6.00, on the door.