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Theatre review: Othello @ Everyman Theatre Liverpool

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Othello – a tale of an Elizabethan era man, forced into madness because of jealousy? Think again; in this production, Othello is a tale of modern women. Well, at least a woman, married to the delicate Desdemona and general of a 21st century Venetian army.

This is exactly what the Everyman Theatre company has given us: with the use of mobile phones, a drunken club night and lesbian lovers, it has ‘spun’ Shakespeare’s original story into very much a 21st century context, giving us a tale for the ‘me too’ generation(s), with this Iago motivated by envying someone who’d broken a ‘glass ceiling’.

Othello gives us the character of Desdemona, a representation of a typical 16th century woman: delicate, polite, feminine, submissive. However, isn’t Gemma Bodinetz’s female Othello, convincingly apposite for a time where gender boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred, in a time in which our Heads of State and Government are female? So why shouldn’t Othello be played by a woman?

She is Golda Rosheuvel, not playing a man, nor being a female actor simply to satisfy some notion of ‘equality’, to replace the typical masculinity of Othello: she is playing Othello as who she is, a woman, and in doing so, not only challenging sexual norms, but recasting the play in a new light; one that poses significant questions concerning gender and identity. And Rosheuvel does so brilliantly; the standout performer on the night; one really believed her internal conflict, her spiral into madness and the slow and painful deterioration of the honourable Othello’s character and dignity, right up until the very end, before which the psychological toll manifests as an act so hideously out of character by the “noble Moor”.

 

The stage in the Everyman Theatre is an ‘In-the-round stage’; the audience are seated along each side of the stage helping to make the play feel more intimate and the audience more involved with the actors performing, superbly, to the whole audience, on all sides. The set was also very versatile, and most set items were raised from the floor; for example, a table, bed, desk etc. However, for me the end scene was the most aesthetically pleasing. A transparent and glassy curtain was realised and hung from the ceiling, it covered the bed with 4 sides, creating a room, making us feel like we were part of a scene that was personal and intimate and ultimately tragic. The deathly events all took place within the curtain and the play ended there.

 

Though set in a modern world, the original Shakespearean language and dialogue was retained, which was a appropriate choice. The stark contrast between the modern and the old made for an interesting and gripping performance, anchoring the action in the issues of the here and now.

It was a fantastic show and I would recommend anyone, whether previously fans of the great bard or not, in or around Liverpool to go and see it: it should, seriously, challenge the way you think about gender stereotypes and equality. 'Othello' runs until 10th July, and tickets can be purchased here.

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