HOME Manchester – until 29th September 2018
Guest reviewer: Ciaran Ward
To no detrimental effect, OthelloMacbeth condenses two of Shakespeare’s most renowned tragedies into an intimate, two-hour performance, that explores the role gender politics have in the drama, and in contemporary society. Rather than producing two disparate plays, HOME and Lyric Hammersmith deliver a single intertextual drama that emphasises the thematic unity of envy, power and injustice, and their influence across both plots.
Whilst accurate to Shakespeare’s original play, director Jude Christian’s condensation of Othello highlights how Iago’s (played by Samuel Collings) plan to bring about the downfall of Othello (Ery Nzaramba), is dependent upon the manipulation of Desdemona (Kirsten Foster), Emelia (Melissa Johns) and Bianca (Kezrena James) as unwitting pawns.
This sense of patriarchal authority and injustice thus seeps into other aspects of the production. From Basia Binkowska’s metallic set design, which resounds the sounds of Desdemona’s domestic abuse at the hands of Othello, to the positioning of Joshua Pharo’s lighting, which constructs the domineering shadow of Iago over his wife Emilia, the audience is continually reminded of the omnipotent presence of patriarchy, and its devastating effects on the female characters.
In the second half of the performance, Christian juxtaposes the distinct gender binaries of the previous half, as the manipulated characters of Desdemona, Emelia and Bianca metamorphose into the manipulative witches of Macbeth. The revolutionary interpretation of these iconic characters as wronged women suggests an attempt to symbolise the rebirth of their former characters’ gender identities, and their defiance against patriarchal authority. Here, they are omnipotent beings, visually present in every scene, who are responsible for the tragedy that unfolds throughout the plot, regularly walking to the front of the stage to wash blood off their hands, unnoticed by the other characters.
Caroline Faber’s performance as Lady Macbeth, likewise, contributes an extra dimension to this already complex female character. Though Macbeth (Sandy Grierson) is traditionally labelled the tragic hero of the play, Faber’s iteration of the character poses as an equally tragic heroine. As she clutches onto a baby blanket during her later moments of grievous remorse, her actions suggest regret over her ignorance of maternity and her transgression into a character motivated by a thirst for power.
By exposing the dire consequences that arise from the misuse of power in relation to two of Shakespeare’s plays, HOME and Lyric Hammersmith have produced an innovative piece of theatre that deserves the utmost acclaim and remembrance for its sheer creativity and ambition.
OthelloMacbeth runs at HOME until 29th September 2018.
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