REVIEW by Alice Karhmann
present Shakespeare ’ s
Photo courtesy of Epsilon Productions
Above the Gatehouse
October 4th - 28th 2006
In citing their motivation for forming new production company Epsilon producers Angela Bull and Erica Lowe site their road to Damascus moment as occurring on ‘the train to Peterborough….with a few drinks inside us’ and the decision to ‘blag our way into the Theatre Industry with a company of our own.’ However, if ever there was an inauspicious start to a truly exciting collaboration, it is their first production - Othello at Above the Gatehouse.
This venue, which, apparently, has not been noted for classical productions, will hopefully continue to encourage small companies to tackle some of the Bard’s greatest works. Perhaps believing that creative ingenuity cannot be achieved unless excessive budgets, star directors and ‘known’ actors can lure the masses to another production of Macbeth or A Midsummer Night’s Dream fewer and fewer start up companies are taking on the challenge of classical theatre.
In their very first show Bull and Lowe have not only delivered a theatrical feast of real bravery and resourcefulness but have also showcased some of the most promising acting talent in evidence on the London Fringe. In the title role Ansu Kabia offers an Othello whose emotional journey builds to a sublime tour de force; powered by true dignity, at once humorous, controlling and clearly at the mercy of his burgeoning passion for Desdemona as well as the conflicting nobility required in his role as an Officer. Kabia however, is not the only actor who shines in this production. No one excels more at the incredible mastery of classical text than Alaistair Cope. His Iago is so convincing, so authoritative and so consumed with belief in his own entitlement to power, riches and revenge that the audience cannot help sympathising with him. Cope and director Megan Finlay boldly strays vehemently from the stereotypical villany with which Iago has so often been portrayed. He is strong, credible, often times hilarious; an incredibly witty Machiavellian whose arc towards villainy in the last third of the play makes it all the more convincing.
Having said this all the cast present strong autonomous performances that are excellent examples of ensemble acting. However this is only one element of a cumulative whole that far outweighs the sum of its parts emphasised by gifted direction and set design as well as the most innovative of theatrical devices. Finlay elevates the play to the theatrical equivalent of film noir, where during each of Iago’s inspired soliloquies, the action is frozen in Brechtian tableaus whilst Cope, like an artist paints each brushstroke of his deception before a captivated audience. Further Cleo Petit’s set design layers the stage in veils of black cloth that allow the characters to be seen watching the action unfolding offstage, only adding to the sense of desperate menace that threatens Desdemona’s life from the very outset.
If the play lacks anything it is the slightest sense that it might have benefited from a few more actors to take on the roles that are doubled up. Whilst Angela Bull does a fantastic job with the parts of Emilia, Bianca and Lady Brabantio, I cannot help the feeling that novices to Shakespeare might be a little confused by the constant interchange of roles. In addition my suspension of disbelief wavered slightly during the murder scene, purely due to the fact that Othello’s pain seemed to be greater during the discovery of Desdemona’s supposed adultery than at the scene of death he imposes on her.
Nevertheless, these small details do nothing to detract from the thrilling experience of a gripping production, in which actors speak classical verse as if it had tripped from their very tongues. Few performances have done more for the clarity of Shakespeare’s imagery than Cope’s rendition of Iago’s notorious ‘lettuce’ speech and thus in their passionate, febrile production, Epsilon have proficiently succeeded in bringing together a team so accomplished that this play seems as fresh as the hordes of ‘new writing’ that is flooding the London Fringe.
Highgate Village London N6 4BD
Box Office: 020 8340 3488
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