In the intimate setting above The Rose’s archaeological site, Pamela Schermann brings Shakespeare’s Othello into the heart of the 21st Century. Where a city office provides the setting for a world in which water cooler gossip and naked ambition form the driving force behind a web of deceit and power struggles.
Schermann’s inspiration lies in the events of a tragic Bank of America intern who died as a result of the exhaustion of a 72 hour shift, where the brutality of the business world and a success at all costs can lead to unthinkable tragedy. In this adaptation of Othello she tackles key themes in a way that make them seem as relevant today as they did in Shakespeare’s time.
A strong Trevor Murphy takes the role of a restless and agitated Iago, who tosses and turns as we find him asleep on his desk. He begins his tirade riddled with jealousy and bitterness as he plots and schemes to take Cassio’s (Denholm Spurr) place as assistant. The clever use of freeze frame moments offers insight into his crazed world, where through his spitting of strawberries and mocking of fellow colleagues we see his two faced personality in three dimensions. Once Iago has set Cassio up he moves onto Othello to plant the seed of doubt in his mind about his wife’s unfaithfulness.
Othello (James Barnes) is the company manager and is joined by his wife Desdemona (Samantha Lock) as a power-suited executive with her assistant Emilia (Ella Duncan) always in tow. Barnes’ Othello is strong and commanding in the war-zone of City Trading. As his jealousy takes hold we see a man unravelling in the vortex of Iago’s manipulation and deceit…. He turns from a respected ‘General’ to murderer with alarming ease.
The play has been stripped back to its five main characters and condensed to a fast paced 90 minutes, which feels appropriate for the cut-throat nature of the business world. Nothing too fundamental is lost, however Othello and Desdemona’s relationship lacks a little of the depth and passion one senses when reading the play. In this production the audience would be forgiven, for instance, for not appreciating that Shakespeare’s Desdemona was a fiery woman who deceived her father to marry a man who was both several years her senior and, contrary to the norm at that time, of a different race.
The stark, minimalist nature of the set is given a contemporary edge with the use of iPads, Facebook and Skype to convey the modern setting of the performance. We see a strained exchange between Cassio and Bianca over Skype, used as fuel for Iago’s plot. Limited for stage space the company make excellent use of the ruined surroundings, Cassio is shot in the distance of the original Rose theatre, we see him slump against historical pillars as Iago glances on. The red strip lighting laid throughout the lake in the backdrop symbolises the mounting tension, however the beating soundtrack can be a little distracting at times.
Pamela Schermann’s adaptation feels very current and a chilling vision of the corporate world told through the language of Shakespeare. Overall I thought this production was well executed, although carried, to a degree, by the excellent Trevor Murphy.
Time Zone Theatre’s Othello runs until February 28th at the Rose Theatre.
Reviewed by Becky Usher