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OTHELLO (article first published : 2004-02-20)

Garth Anderson’s Actors Co-Operative theatre company has an impressive history of good productions that have garnered many awards. Last year, it had no less than seven nominations at the newly-founded Durban Theatre Awards for Hamlet and one nomination for the musical revue Out in the Midday Sun.

The Actors Co-Op’s strength is in performing Shakespearean works chosen as set-works for schools and their latest, Othello, had a public performance last night at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre. The play is performing to schools in Durban and Hilton until March 3.

To produce a play these days with anything over six members in the cast indicates a high level of commitment and director Garth Anderson is to be commended for his perseverance in a tough financial climate for the arts.

He couldn’t have found a better choice for his Iago. Frantz Dobrowsky strides off with the acting honours in his interpretation of the embittered man who feels he has been passed over in promotion and supplanted in bed. He manipulates his way through a minefield of double-dealings with ease, occasionally sharing his evil thoughts with the audience as he hatches his malevolent plot which leads to blood, death and destruction.

Among his victims is his arch-enemy, Othello – Tebogo T-Bone Hlahane in his best and most vocally controlled performance to date. In the main, he handled the complex layers of this role well but I would have liked to have seen more inner struggle and less declamatory speech.

Another of Iago’s victims is Desdemona, Othello’s young bride. This role is played with spirit and sensitivity by Lucy Wallace, recently graduated from the drama department of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. She has grown considerably in dramatic stature since I saw her in Much Ado About Nothing and she’s definitely a name to watch.

As Cassio, Bryan Hiles gave an honest and credible performance and I particularly liked his “reputation” scene. Alison Cassels was a sympathetic and determined Emilia but Oded Rouche seemed at odds with his role as the lovelorn Roderigo.

As with his Hamlet and Macbeth, which were both staged at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Garth keeps his set to a minimum, focusing strongly on the text and offering visual imagery through lighting effects. Mark Kleinert’s lighting design is dramatic and exciting but there were certain dark patches downstage which were most disconcerting.

My main concern was with the costumes which seemed a strange and unrelated assortment of styles from flowing robes to Out of Africa-type ensembles and casual wear which would have been more appropriate on the beach than in the household of a high-ranking official.

The Sneddon’s airconditioning appeared to be either on the blink or not working at all. This produced a high discomfort level as audiences and performers alike battled with the heat for the two-hour long full drama and it says much for the production that people remained riveted to the action.

Othello runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre from February 10 to 27 weekdays at 09h00 and 12h00. The production then goes on to play the Hilton College Theatre on March 1, 2 and 3. The cost is R30 per learner (one teacher per 30 pupils admitted free). Booking is through The Actors Co-operative agent Margie Coppen on 083 251 9412. – Caroline Smart




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