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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

OTHELLO (article first published : 2002-04-24)

Following hard on the heels of its successful production of Macbeth, the Actors Co-operative have launched another Shakespeare production for schools. Currently touring KZN, it had one performance tonight (Shakespeare’s birthday) to be followed by another tomorrow at 19h30 at Glenwood High School.

Always a careful director and one with a great respect for the Shakespearean text, director Garth Anderson has extracted the best from his cast and utilised well the limitations of the venue. Removing the first eight rows in the school hall and placing these chairs down the sides, he has created a intimate acting area along the lines that Shakespearean audiences would have enjoyed.

This means that when the fights erupt, the audience becomes involved as if they were bystanders at the actual event. This staging worked particularly well in the visually-beautiful and sensitively played final scene between Desdemona and Emilia.

The problem with school halls is that they are not designed for any subtleties of the human voice and therefore the acoustics are definitely not user-friendly. There’s a lot of angry shouting and powerful dialogue in Othello and the cast generally battles with this aspect.

Not the diction – I couldn’t fault that. Rather the sense of power that has to come from deep-seated breathing techniques and proper use of the voice. At the risk of being seen to be touting for business, most of the cast should look for a good voice production coach otherwise they are in dire danger of doing permanent damage to their voices.

Grasping the acting honours in this production is Chris Marcellin as the devious and manipulative Iago who sets about his revenge with diabolical relish. This was a vigorous and consistently strong performance from an actor I hope to see more of in this part of the world.

With such a short turnaround time between his excellent Salieri in the recent Amadeus and this role, I felt that Joel Zuma wasn’t as prepared as he would liked to have been. While his focus was strong and he brought a certain hauteur to the role, Othello is a complex part to interpret. He is a powerful and respected general whose weakest link is exploited by his enemy to the point where, devoured by bitter jealousy and perceived betrayal, he is driven to murder.

I was impressed by Clare Mortimer’s Lady Macduff in the Actors Co-operative’s Macbethand doubly so with her Desdemona. She brings to the role a luminosity and innocence within a dignified and charming grace. Belinda Harward is a feisty and waspish Emilia and her final scenes were highly impressive.

Also the designer of the attractive costumes, Peter Court delighted the audiences with his interpretation of Brabantio and Edward Berridge shows much promise as Cassio.

Othello is available for schools performances until April 30. Contact Garth Anderson on 083 439 1532. Early booking is advised to avoid disappointment. – Caroline Smart




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