Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most beloved tragedies, a play that reveals a very true image of the human condition with jealousy, passion and betrayal. Othello is a victim of his own temper and the conspiracies around him, but Paula Vogel’s re-imagining of the play shifts focus from its tragic male to the true victim of the tragedy, his wife Desdemona.
Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief exposes a very different side to Shakespeare’s play – the men serve as an external threat, a distant cry off-stage as the three powerful women in Othello’s world come into focus: his passionate and impulsive wife Desdemona, her long-suffering maid Emilia and the local prostitute Bianca, who secretly dreams of another life. When Othello, a general in the Venetian army, fails to promote Emelia’s husband Iago in the army ranks, Iago seeks revenge by misleading all characters and fuelling Othello’s jealousy by claiming Desdemona is being unfaithful with the new lieutenant Cassio. For proof, Othello demands a handkerchief he once gave Desdemona – a handkerchief she has lost. Evolving around this, a symbol of their marriage bond, the real lives of Desdemona and the women in her sphere are exposed, creating a whole new dimension to the tragedy.
Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief is a hilarious and incredibly imaginative other side to the lives of the women in Othello. Exposing a Desdemona who’s fiery, challenging and independent, we understand the undertones of the play and the women’s story fuels a better understanding and insight into Shakespeare’s classic. Paula Vogel’s writing is funny, spunky and delightfully modern: she writes fantastic female characters and relationships, and the play moves forward with such pace and fluidity that you are spellbound from the get-go. This also comes down to the phenomenal cast – it’s refreshing to experience not only an all-female cast, but such a vibrant, playful and heartfelt trio who breathe unique life into Vogel’s characters and make the audience fall in love with them. Alice Bailey-Johnson’s Desdemona is a spirited young woman full of life, sparks and charisma – it’s hard to imagine a Desdemona being dainty after this power performance. Ingrid Lacey has great depth and warmth as Emilia, and Ursula Early brings incredible energy, spirit and commitment to the entertaining but slightly broken Bianca.
James Bounds’s direction is spot-on and dynamic and he manages to bring the best out of his cast with a perfectionist eye for detail in both text and set. Kelli Des Jarlais’s design is simple but very effective and exciting, and composer James Frewer’s music supports the modern tone of the play perfectly with a mix of contemporary and traditional sound.
Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief is incredibly funny and touching, and a female tour-de-force. It’s exciting for both Othello-lovers, and people who’ve skipped Shakespeare’s classic. It’s one of those plays where you feel enchanted, inspired and disappointed by the shortness of it. Go and experience some fantastic female performances and secret voices of Shakespeare’s women.
Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief is playing at the Park Theatre until 8 June. For tickets and more information, see the Park Theatre website.