One can expect several things when going to watch a tragedy of William Shakespeare; it’ll be long, there’ll be at least one death and it’ll be both a cerebral and emotional experience. Watching a Shakespearean tragedy is no walk in the park and neither is staging one. That’s why I was so surprised to hear of the ambitious decision to combine two of the Bard’s greatest tragedies, Othello and Macbeth, into one production. Aptly named othellomacbeth, the latest project by director Jude Christian, is a post Me Too movement exploration of the abuse and violence against women in Shakespeare.
The production is split into two halves; a condensed version of Othello in the first and a condensed version of Macbeth in the second. During Othello, the director’s objective is clear and the parallels between Desdemona and Emilia and the treatment of many women in the current climate are striking. Played by Kirsten Forster, Desdemona, unbelieved, ignored and trapped in world where male friendship trumps justice and truth, pays the ultimate price. Forster gives a strong performance as the naïve, kind-hearted Desdemona contrasting well with Melissa Johns’ sparky Emilia. The opening is fast paced scene in which Desdemona’s father (Paul Courtenay Hgu) confronts Othello (Ery Nzaramba). It is plagued by poor diction and a heavy reliance on ‘arm acting’. Combined with Basia Binkowska’s metallic sheets, the scene succeeds only in making the audience feel overwhelmed and disassociated. The first half warm ups due to the strong acting of the supporting males and women, although the overall feeling is one of a rushed but lengthy exposition.
Moving into the second half of the production, the wronged women of Othello morph into the witches of Macbeth seemingly to wreak havoc on males they come into contact with. Unlike Othello, the Macbeth section seems to drag and along the way the intentions of Christian become unclear, almost as if the show has been directed by two different individuals, one who has devoted time to a clear objective and one who has not. Luckily, Sandy Grierson gives a strong performance as Macbeth and Samuel Collings is much more suited to the role of MacDuff than of Iago. Caroline Faber gives a solid Lady Macbeth and there are truthful moments of emotion scattered in her lines.
Although bold and exciting with lots of potential, the risk of staging two of the great Shakespearean tragedies hasn’t paid off. Perhaps if the creative team had focused on retelling simply one of the tragedies, they might have had more success.
othellomacbeth is playing Lyric Hammersmith until 5 November 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.