Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Bristol Shakespeare Festival Company
Venue: The Zoo
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
Having recently seen a wide variety of Shakespeare, I will start by saying that this piece simply does not compare to any Shakespeare adaptation I have seen before. Every box is well and truly ticked: the performance is incredible, the production sublime, the direction simple yet evocative, the staging haunting… This is a nigh-on faultless Fringe production. Impossible as it may sound, this is a flawless piece of theatre, and deserves the highest accolades for everyone involved. You must see this show: there is no other way to put it. If you don’t, you are missing out on one of the finest pieces of theatre at the Fringe.
The piece, roughly speaking, is the story of Shakespeare’s Othello: a Moor who marries a beautiful woman, Desdemona. The machinations of the villainous Iago inspire such jealousy and rage in the Moor that he murders his wife, and the play ends with Iago discovered and imprisioned, Othello having killed himself. This is all told, seemingly as a flashback, by Iago in his jail cell, as he embodies the various characters and retells the story.
This simple premise gives room for the sheer brilliance of this production. A huge amount of credit is due to Martin Aukland for his incredible performance. His embodiement of Iago, Othello, Cassio and various smaller parts is energetic and invigorating, leaping from toe to toe as he also manages to create believable interactions between these, as well as performing them all with exceptional verve. The skill with which Aukland creates character is extremely exciting to behold: he seems to start with a pastiche of the character’s flaws and faults, which slowly melt away as the story continues, drawing the audience into each figure’s plight. Beyond that, his portrayals of more than one character in any given scene are, somehow, frighteningly believable, and his movements between them are never forced or awkward. This is one-man performance at its best.
From a production perspective, this is also given a simple context: Iago is trying to deduce why he did it. It is famously hard to find a solid motive for Iago’s betrayal of Othello, and in this production, he is clearly trying to find his own reasoning, replaying the events to find what possessed him. This makes perfect sense in this context, as each major monologue returns us to the condemned man’s jail cell, as he seemingly tries to reason why he did what he did. This is done beautifully with elegant light and sound effects. The lighting is muted and indicative, never invasive, while the soundscape is a thing of beauty: reminding one of a psychological thriller, sharp sound effects are used to heighten tension, while effects draw us from memory to cell with ease.
This is combined with the one heavily symbolic element of the piece: the floor. The whole production is performed on a pristine white cloth, a famous indicator of Othello and Desdemona’s bed, used in so many productions as a sign of chastity and Desdemona’s true nature, beyond Iago’s lies. As Aukland prances across the stage, invoking one character after another, the cloth becomes twisted and furled, an indicator of how he has ruined Desdemona in the eyes of the Moor: a simply sublime effect.
This is an incredible experience. Beyond the perfection of all of the above stated, there is also the fact that Aukland’s portrayal of Iago and Othello is, ignoring of all of the constructs of the piece, one of the best this author had ever seen. Othello’s speech when murdering Desdemona was excpetionally well delivered, as was ever single one of Iago’s difficult monologues. The conversations between Iago and Othello were moments of wonder: not only did both characters exist on stage, but the lines were delivered almost perfectly; an amazing acheivement. This is unmissable, a totally realised piece of theatre, and a true delight for any theatre-goer.