Stafford Festival Shakespeare, Stafford Castle
23 June to 9 July 2016
Jealousy, corruption, love and murder, all in one play, and all acted out in front of the sensational backdrop of Stafford Castle. It’s that time of year again, Stafford Festival is presenting its Shakespeare offering, outdoors and this year’s choice of Othello proved to be an inspired decision.
Set in Venice and Cyprus, with a seaside postcard 50’s theme and a marvel of a set coupled with perfect lighting design, it’s a production to be proud of. Othello tells the tale of a decorated war hero who has secretly married his love, Desdemona, he is the subject of envy for Iago, an ensign in Othello’s army. Iago despises the fact that Cassio has been promoted over him and he is aware of a rumour that his own wife, Emilia, has had an affair with Othello. Roderigo, a civilian in Venice, has misguidedly confided in Iago, his love for Desdemona and Iago takes advantage of this, too. The villainous plans of Iago begin to unravel the happiness of each central character, until their fate claims them.
Oliver Wilson plays the love-struck title role, he showed a good command of the role, directing my attention to Othello’s unbridled joy, his plight and his inevitable downfall. I noted the gradual decline in his ego and mentality as Iago planted his evil seed. Iago, played by Niall Costigan, is villain through and through, conniving, cunning, almost rat-like qualities in his movements. He also brought an even degree of comedy to the role, which gives another dimension to a complex character. Despite the title of the piece, Iago is the pivotal character, in my opinion; he has his finger in every pie and orchestrates every nuance. Madeleine Leslay makes a stunning Desdemona, every inch the young and beautiful new bride, she has believable chemistry with Wilson and also plays the relationship with Cassio with marked subtle overtures. James Lawrence gives a well-balanced performance as the unwitting Cassio, he is particularly skilled in the fight scenes. Hester Arden breathed life into Emilia in a way I’ve not witnessed before, a variety of strategically placed facial expressions, together with body language to set her apart from Desdemona. A particularly impressive performance.
The cast as an ensemble were strong, with not one weak link among them and it was thrilling to see so many of them were also adept musicians and singers. Indeed the musical accompaniment was the key to set this piece apart from its contemporaries. Congratulations to Producer, Derrick Gask, Clare Prenton (Director) and the rest of the production team, you’ve created something special.