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review // Othello in Trinity College, Cambridge Shakespeare Festival

It was a dark, rainy night; the wind was bitter, and the Merchant of Venice had been cancelled due to illness. Not the most auspicious start, perhaps, to one of the bard’s better-known plays. Then again, it may be that the beginning Othello demands is not an auspicious one at all. True to the valiant spirit of the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival, despite the fact that it was cold, very damp, and played to an enterprising audience which filled only the front row, this production of Othello was pulled off with admirable zeal. Directed by David Rowan, and running from the 28th July to the 16th August this year it was a play that made great use of its outdoor setting despite the antipathy of the elements. Both costumes and props were remarkably evocative, the use of contrasting colours and bold uniforms during the scenes in Cyprus was, in the traditional line of the institution, to be expected, and yet it is worth remarking upon all the same: it was a production of great quality.

Ian Pink’s Iago was one of gleeful and relentless malignance. It is the latter characteristic for which his acting in this part must be noted, rarely breaking his role within a role of the ‘loyal’ servant, and maintaining a perpetual poker face, Pink’s was neither a hot headed nor truly sadistic villain. Instead, his antagonist was as exhausting, relentless and impassive as the ocean: it was a quietly charismatic performance. Alongside Pink, Raphael Teixeira as Othello was most remarkable for the absolute, unreserved and entirely credible love that he bore his Desdemona. Even after the deed is done, Teixera’s delivery of the line that he, Othello, was ‘one that loved not wisely but too well’ struck a poignant chord that resonated, as it aught, through all the characters wronged for the same flaw by Iago.

Another great strength of the production were its comics, especially Clive Alexander; although his Brabantio was a little weak at points, (to be fair it was late, raining, and he was in a nightgown), Alexander stood out for his ability both to elicit laughs from his soggy audience, and to play a convincing and apparently sincere Lodovico in the second half. Jamie Allan Osborne’s hapless Roderigo was one of endearing stupidity, and ought to be acknowledged for keeping the humour up despite the growing dark of both the evening and the tale. Beth Eyre, as the Duchess of Venice was strangely made up with a wash of what looked like white paint, but managed to engender the respect demanded by her part, and was latterly an earnest Bianca. Harry Russell as Cassio and Charlotte Ellen as Aemelia were both plausibly sympathetic characters, though neither was able to quite match the standard of the rest of the cast. It is a shame to say that Miranda Shrapnell’s Desdemona was certainly the weakest link in an otherwise moving performance. Exacerbating circumstances were in play, and ought to be accounted for, but Shrapnell’s projection was very poor, and her character lacked greatly both emotional depth and authenticity.

In conclusion, it was a powerful production, well made and commendably enacted despite the tempestuous night: congratulations to all.

words from Gabrielle Watts