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Bored of the Bard? No Way!
Othello - Theatre Royal Bath
Member Name: karenuk
Othello - Theatre Royal Bath
Advantages: Great cast, outstanding performances, enthralling
I enjoyed Shakespeare at school, especially Macbeth (which I studied for O-levels) and Hamlet (at A-level). I also love going to the theatre, but hadn't actually seen any live Shakespeare on stage since my A-level years - some twenty years ago now!
But then, last year, I watched an interview on TV with comedian and actor Lenny Henry, who was about to start rehearsing for the title role in Othello. This whetted my appetite and when I heard the play was coming to the Theatre Royal, Bath, in April, my husband and I managed to get front row tickets for Friday's performance.
I only had a vague idea of the storyline of Othello before going. I had meant to read a synopsis online, but hadn't got round to it, so I just hoped I'd be able to follow it. It took about ten minutes for my ears to adapt to Shakespeare's language and after that, I was fine. I couldn't say I'd understood every word, but I could follow it easily and knew what was going on.
This was due to the excellent acting on stage. The Northern accents helped too! The company is called Northern Broadsides and they perform Shakespeare with Northern accents - which suits me just fine, as I'm from Lincolnshire, so I felt at home!
Othello is a play about jealousy, love, honour and duty. Othello (played by Lenny Henry) marries Desdemona (Jessica Harris) and they are happily in love, but Iago - Othello's ensign, played superbly by Conrad Nelson - decides to interfere. Without giving away too much of the plot, Iago sets about destroying Othello, uncaring as to who else he wounds along the way. As long as Iago himself is not incriminated, he is satisfied to set the wheels in motion, then move out of sight to watch events develop.
Iago is a fantastic character and Conrad Nelson stole the show for me in this role. I had gone to watch Lenny Henry really - who certainly impressed with his convincing performance and powerful presence. When we arrived and bought a programme, I was pleased to see I recognised two other cast members - Richard Standing (who played Father David in Doctors and Danny Hargreaves in Coronation Street a few years ago) and Jessica Harris (who I remembered from Being Human and Holby City).
I hadn't heard of Conrad Nelson previously, though he has an impressive CV and is also the Associate Director and Composer here. As Iago, he is on stage for most of the 2 hours 50 minutes and for me, his acting was responsible for drawing me into the story.
Like all the best villains, Iago has many sides to his character and Conrad Nelson showed the audience all of them perfectly. One minute, he's the jovial good-natured charmer; next, he's ruthless, devious and manipulative, dripping his poison in the ears of those around him. All the way through, the other characters refer to 'honest Iago', while the audience know differently and are desperate to boo and hiss out loud, pantomime-style! "He's behind you!"
The rest of the cast was very good throughout. While Conrad Nelson and Lenny Henry were outstanding, the performances from Jessica Harris (Desdemona) and Richard Standing (Cassio) are also worthy of special praise. Jessica's small frame worked very well with Lenny's height and build, as he picks her up and whirls her round the stage in delight. She is a convincing Desdemona, a sweet, innocent, youthful beauty and her performance is often beguiling. Richard Standing's Cassio is well done throughout, with the highlight being his wonderfully comic - yet realistic - drunk acting, as he becomes inebriated with the other soldiers.
The set of Othello is simple, but effective. On the front row of the theatre, we were privy to every bead of sweat and each drop of spit, but I do enjoy being close to the stage and feel wonderfully enveloped in the play.
Performances like this one are inspiring and fill me with passion for Shakespeare, the theatre and acting. In Conrad Nelson, I feel we have a genius, possibly one of the best actors in the country. Yet, as he hasn't starred in EastEnders, 99% of Britain will have no idea who he is. Sometimes, fame and talent are completely different things.
If Othello comes to your area, I definitely recommend you see it. I loved it and will remember it for a long time to come. We paid almost £30 a ticket and it was worth every penny - even in a recession!
Summary: A great version of a Shakespeare classic
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