We went to see Bell Shakespeare do it last night. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it for months, so I was glad that it was good. And I had worded J up beforehand, so that he at least knew the story line. Speaking of whom, at half time he said: “I don’t see why it’s called Othello; it’s all about Iago.” Which was a good call, I thought – Wayne Blair was good, as the Moor, but Marcus Graham absolutely kicked ass as Iago. He was so… evil. And manipulative. And just plain brilliant.
Couple of things I noted:
1. I have studied this play maybe three times, in different subjects, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it performed. Iago is so sexual! Half his big speeches seem to have to do with sex. Which is not a bad thing, but I had never realised it before, so it goes to prove that seeing a performance is infinitely better than simply reading words on a page (well, duh). And no, I don’t think it was just the twist Graham gave the words… although his body language certainly reinforced it!
2. It’s really quite racist. Well, duh, say all the historians – but you know, you’d think that if Shakespeare was putting a black man as nominally the lead it would be a bit sympathetic to him, but… not really. Othello isn’t rational – he “loves not wisely, but too well” – while many of the white (male) characters are; he is made to say some bad things about his own colour, and most of the other speakers get in a comment about his colour too. It made me think – and I’m not sure I ever considered this before, which is to my shame – whether a black man would actually have played Othello in Elizabethan times. I bet that if one did, you wouldn’t have been able to hear the words of the play, for all the excitement it would cause in the audience. Or maybe I’m overestimating the ability of an Elizabethan crowd to be impressed by anything.
3. The female characters are dreadful. Desdemona is weak (although there was one point in this version where it did look like she and Cassio were getting… close…); Emilia is devious, and would be a slut if given the opportunity; Bianca is a whore. Delightful!
4. The Cassio last night was disappointing. He’s meant to be this great lady killer, and Tom Wren just isn’t… pretty enough. He was a bit weak, I thought.
And of course it made me think of Wise Children, since Othello is one of the plays whose plot the family follows in some respects. If you like Shakespearean drama at all and haven’t read it, you really really have to. I would go so far as to say that it was the best book my Arts degree introduced me to.
And then, after, we had a lovely walk to the tram, looking at all the buildings in the mist. Our city is best by night.