REVIEW - Birmingham Crescent's Othello cast were 'simply dazzling' - The Bromsgrove Standard

REVIEW - Birmingham Crescent's Othello cast were 'simply dazzling'

Bromsgrove Editorial 13th Nov, 2023 Updated: 14th Nov, 2023   0

DRAGGING this weary reviewer from a warm, cosy fireside in Bromsgrove for a sojourn into cold, wet Birmingham for my fourth review in the past few days wasn’t my ideal lifestyle choice yesterday – but I’m so glad I made it.

What a cracker this production of Othello is – when the Crescent theatre company are good they are very, very good and here they truly dazzle.

Colin Simmonds, who as an actor has given me some of my most memorable Crescent moments with his stage performances, brings his same seemingly effortless lightness of touch to directing.

Mercifully there is a near absence of shouting and waving about of arms but a cleverly crafted, fully inclusive synergy.

This is Shakespeare as the Bard intended – accessible to all and a breath-taking adventure – not a cerebral exercise for the theatrical intelligentsia. A Tragedy yes – but also a simple tale with no need for complications.

Basically it is all about the oldest evil – jealousy. What we feel should be ours by right is the sore that festers and the spot that becomes a carbuncle ‘til it becomes all-consuming.

Othello, aka the Moor of Venice who is enjoying star status as defender of sunny Cyprus against marauding Turks, is the object of his friend Iago’s green-eyed envy when he is overlooked for promotion.

That’s the prologue in a nutshell – what follows is dastardly doings by Iago to taint and destroy Othello by whispering bile into his ear about his beloved bride Desdemona being a strumpet.

Keith Harris’ setting is a simple stone courtyard, like a chessboard surrounded on four sides by the audience and allowing four stage entrances for free-flowing action.

John Gray’s lighting design is intimate, moody and masterful, often lit by candles and lamps and creating little enclaves of light where plots are hatched and murder stalks. Add to this haunting sound – track composed by Brendan Stanley and deftly delivered by Kevin Middleton – always enhancing, never dominating and oft putting the tense in tension.

It maybe a dark and simple setting but the frocks from The Snapes are inspirational, setting it in a nebulous time. From the courtly tail and waistcoats through the subtle creams of the ladies gowns to the simple majesty of the free flowing Versace-like splendour of Othello’s strutting gear, the players are perfectly dressed.

Nick Tuck is capable and convincing as Cassio, Othello’s captain who Iago puts in the frame as Desdemona’s lover as is Tom Lowde as Roderigo who it seems actually is in love with Desdemona.

Brendan Stanley is well cast as Desdemona’s father the Venetian Senator Brabantio, Jordon Bird cuts an amiable figure as Montana the playful Governor of Cyprus and servant to the Duke of Venice played by Robert Laird,  adding a rare dash of humour.

Grace Cheadle brings authority and depth to the role of iago’s wife Emilia whilst Amanda Nickles gives us an amusing Bianca (though best not ask how a cockney got to Cyprus).

As Desdemona I read this is Sophie Mannings first role at the Crescent and what a huge role it is. I felt she started a little hesitantly – then grew in confidence as the play progressed and really came into her own in the closing scenes where she truly evoked our sympathy.

Jack Hobbis follows in a line of great Crescent Iagos I have seen over the years – until he took on the mantle, my all time favourite was Clive Rickards in the 1984 version directed by the legend that was Ron Barber.

Now along comes Hobbis with a wonderful way of engaging with his compulsive asides, coercing not intimidating. It is towering performance, which strips away clutter and offers up a villain with delightful bedside manners.

The gloriously named Papa Anoh Yentumi has progressed through The Crescent ranks to take on the role he surely must have been destined to play. He does not disappoint, strutting with the arrogance of a rock god and speaking with a voice full of passion for living. For me, Yentumi was pure charisma and the scream he utters when he realises what he has done reminded me of the one given by Al Pacino in Godfather 3, one of my all time favourite screen moments when his daughter is murdered – long, heart-wrenching and macabrely beautiful.

I read Simmonds has brought in a fight choreographer, an Arabic translator and a vocal coach – there lies the wisdom of a wise director – delegate whilst you devise and direct. Never have I seen a Crescent show in the round work as well – everything and everyone visible, no masking, no black holes, seamless perfection.

The last 30 minutes is hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck stuff, breath-taking and stylish. When Desdemona’s demise comes it was oh so intense and long – almost stopping my heart, along with hers.

The jury is out as to whether Iago really lusts after Othello as well and its not just about not getting the job and I’m tempted to think that maybe the Moor did once have a notch on the bedpost with Emilia – who knows!

If you don’t like Shakespeare – do go see – this will change your mind.   And go if you’re a Bard boy – this is a ‘classic classic’.

Othello is at the Crescent until November 25. Click here for times, tickets and more information.



Review by Euan Rose

Euan Rose Reviews


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