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Icarus Theatre Collective

Othello

National Tour
18 September - 28 November 2009
A co-production with Original Theatre Company
in association with South Hill Park Arts Centre
Vincent in Brixton

Othello

By William Shakespeare

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A tempestuous journey from scandal and intrigue to lust and vengeance!

For information about our Othello workshops, click here.

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2009 Reviews


Lucy Crossley, Bracknell News


COMBINING Shakespeare with a live string quartet ensured that a new production of Othello was on song for the start of its national tour.
A joint production from Icarus Theatre Collective, Original Theatre Company and South Hill Park, this version of one of Shakespeare's most forward-thinking plays was greatly enhanced by its talented cast combining their acting skills with playing instruments live on stage.
As well as providing fantastic original music from composer and South Hill Park chief executive Ron McAllister, the instruments were used as a great theatrical device - adding intrigue and suspense, particularly when played by Christopher Dingli as the play's manipulative villain Iago.
Dingli's understated, yet menacing, performance as Othello's right-hand man who tricks the "noble moor" into killing his wife Desdemona had the audience hooked throughout while his musical talent provided another dimension to the amoral character of Iago.
The instruments also served to give a further sense of "otherness" to the character of Othello.
Already separated from many of the characters because of the colour of his skin, the fact that Othello - played Vinta Morgan - was not given an instrument helped ostracise him further.
Though sometimes harrowing to watch Morgan's extremely powerful performance was an absolute triumph as the audience was gripped by his interpretation Othello's tragic descent from a brave and respected soldier to a jealous and emotionally ravaged murderer.
There were also strong performances from the rest of ensemble cast, many of whom played more than one character, with Nick Holbek's Roderigo providing moments of comic relief while Laura Durrant's sympathetic portrayal of Iago's wife, and unwitting accomplice, Emilia was a joy to watch.

Credit must also go to the production's costume and set designers whose adaptable creations provided the perfect backdrop to the show, allowing the story to effortlessly move from one location to another and for the actors to switch between the different characters they were playing easily, yet convincingly.

 

Sonia Kapur, The Maidenhead Advertiser


This was a beautiful version of Shakespeare’s Othello, with a live string quartet featuring live music from composer Ron McAllister. 

It took me a little while to engage with the show and I felt that the first half was particularly slow and long. But the pace of the show that features themes such as ambition, jealousy and love, definitely picked up in the second half. 

Vinta Morgan, who played Othello, was the star of the show. His strong voice was well suited to the character of Othello who begins to doubts his devout wife, after being poisoned by Iago - Othello's ensign and a villain. 

The use of music should be praised, especially in the first half when characters are on board of a ship, and there is a storm. 

The scene I most enjoyed, and was most engaged in, was the final one. Audiences see Othello strangle his wife, Desdemona, as she lays peacefully in her bed. We hear and see his love for her, but see that tales of her betrayal by Iago, have got the better of him. 

Overall Othello was a dramatic and spectacular show presented by Icarus Theatre Collective, Original Theatre Company and South Hill Park Arts Centre.

 

Alice Williams, The York Press

A heartbreaking tale of jealousy, passion, love and remorse was poignantly performed at the Harrogate Theatre last night.

South Hill Park Arts Centre with Icarus Theatre Collective and the Original Theatre Company returned to Harrogate to portray the sorrowful story of Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Othello.

Following Lenny Henry’s debute in a recent production of the play, last night’s interpretation did not disappoint.

Directed by Max Lewendel, this stunning production was enhanced by the cast’s use of a string quartet, bringing a new depth of emotion to the story of a noble man’s descent.

Othello, played by RSC actor Vinta Morgan, had a commanding stage presence felt by everyone, from the audience to the trembling Desdemona, as he spurned and cursed her in a frenzied rage of passion, hurt and pride, and both the cast and audience were swept up in the terrible injustice of his downfall.

Proud, fierce and dignified, the great Othello’s demise, brought about by the villainous Iago, was emotive, fluent, and audibly appreciated by all.

Iago, played by Christopher Dingli, portrayed his vengeance coldly, inexplicably, and engrossingly, drawing the audience into his calculated malice.

In fact, the cast’s energy was remarkable, building up to a crescendo in the final horrifying scenes of Desdemona’s murder by a crazed and ruined man.

Desdemona, played by Katie Colebrook, was perfectly sympathetic, her virtue was pleasing, and she seamlessly played her submissive but passionate role until her last, tragic breath. Whilst Emilia, powerfully played by Laura Durrant, was enthralling hysterical at the terrible realisation of her mistresses murder, commanding her part movingly and with emotion and tears.

Completely encapsulated, the audience, along with Othello, did indeed “lay down and roar’” for the tragedy of the deception. Both as actors and musicians, the level of talent was astounding.

 

Kevin Berry, The Stage

This production intrigues from the outset. All except Vinta Morgan, who plays Othello, make their first entrance playing a violin or a cello. It is as if they are preparing for a recital.

This is a performance with music but not at all a musical. The strings catch the musicality of the text, although not every time an actor speaks. Turmoil and anxiety are heightened, passion brushed and coloured with a moment of melody. Then, when there is heightened dramatic tension, the instruments strike emphatic chords.

These actors do not look awkward - Laura Durrant, as both Emilia and Gratiano, holds a cello as if acting with a cello is entirely normal. Apparently she has danced and played cello at the same time for a physical theatre company.

The set is another surprise. It looks perfunctory, with nothing unusual, but when the action begins all is fluid and adaptable. A panel of wood is placed between short pillars and becomes a jetty. Then it is raised for Desdemona’s bed and then her funeral pyre. The violent storm, which destroys the enemy fleet, is well staged.

Christopher Dingli’s Iago is sensibly understated, a clever manipulator rather than a demented plotter. Vinta Morgan’s Othello is commendable but he is better when moving. Mention must again be made of Durrant - her playing of Emilia, Iago’s wife, is fine acting. Nick Holbek’s Roderigo and Charles de Bromhead as Cassio need greater definition.

The whole is an interesting collective effort put together by a team with a sense of adventure.

 

Jane Soar, Harrogate Advertiser

Often the opening set of a play can give an indication of the quality and enjoyment that follows, and in the main this was the case with The Original Theatre's production of Othello at the Harrogate Theatre. There was a simple set with full length drapes at the back of the stage which proved very versatile as the action progressed, and minimal furniture that could be moved about unobtrusively.

Christopher Dingli's excellent portrayal of 'honest' Iago reeked of deceit, malice and manipulation in his hatred for the Moor. With his opening speech to Brabantio - "Even now, now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe" - we were left in no doubt as to his motives.

Vinta Morgan was a powerful Othello, although at times he spoke at such a rate it was difficult to understand the lines, and there was a strong sexual chemistry between him and Kate Colebrook as his loving wife Desdemona.

Nick Holbeck as the duped Roderigo was an excellent foil for Iago and provided the comic relief.

Laura Durrant's Emilia, although under Iago's spell, well demonstrated her love and complete loyalty to her mistress Desdemona.

 

David Green, David Green Books

I’m never quite convinced that Othello’s jealousy is quite justified. By all means, he is worked upon and deceived but he seems to descend into it with undue complicity.... In this production, the noble, confident and happy Moor is very quickly beset by doubts.

The talented cast here played their own string quintet soundtrack, an evocative set of themes and motifs, as well as acting the parts; and the lighting, so often a forgotten part of any production was well done, too. Both contributed to the mood of shadows and sinister intent.

Vinta Morgan was impressive as Othello; powerful, passionate and then horribly undone... you can imagine that he’d been designed for the part. Christopher Dingli grew in malevolence as Iago and only perhaps Roderigo didn’t add up to much for me, the comic effects possibly played up too much. Despite so many of the constituent parts being so fine, the overall effect was fractionally short of something. While admiring this, that or the other aspect of it, I wasn’t as involved as I might have been but it will remain in the memory for the music incorporated into the scenes. Lush or lyrical and then suggestive of danger or mental disturbance or distress, it was a masterstroke. I can do no more than commend it to you if it’s coming to near you soon.

 

Mike Allen, The Portsmouth News

Shakespeare's play emerges in sharp focus in this professional touring production as a clash between physical and psychological danger in the persons of Othello and Iago.

It also emerges on the relatively small New Theatre Royal stage as a very direct domestic tragedy, carried forward on a tide of human emotions.

Within that directness comes a lot of subtlety - most obviously (if subtlety can be obvious) in the use of music for stringed instruments played by five of the seven actors.

At first it seems this music might be too gimmicky in underscoring moods, but it is gradually used with more restraint and becomes correspondingly more effective - most notably at Desdemona's death.

The music also underscores the poetry of the text, spoken with particular potency by Vinta Morgan as Othello. He is matched by Christopher Dingli's Iago, horrible in his manipulative plausibility, and the racial aspect is well-defined.

A fascinating production makes use of a busy set where everything seems to have at least two purposes.

 

5 stars Neil McEwan, The Scotsman

Shakespeare with strings or Othello with cellos could have been the subtitle of Icarus Theatre Collectives' interesting interpretation of this tale of the green-eyed monster.

The choice to use actors who are also accomplished players of stringed instruments and to attempt to blend the musicality into the performance without comment almost succeeded and added an interesting new layer to many scenes.

The concept was slightly overused however and towards the end, as the tensions began to rise, it got in the way of the story as violins or cellos were hauled across the stage, pulling the audience's focus away from the words.

Othello is one of Shakespeare's most dense texts and the actors coped brilliantly with the complexity of the dialogue with on occasion the odd tendency to rush their lines being the only flaw in what were otherwise pitch perfect deliveries.

Vinta Morgan in the title role initially failed to give off the requisite authority needed by the part, but by the end he had totally absorbed the torment and madness which would eventually lead him to his final act of cruelty.

As Desdemona, Kate Colebrook had one of the most thankless tasks in Shakespeare, that of imbuing one of the bards wettest female characters with life. As with Morgan she took a while to get there, but as her world came crashing around her ears she managed to bring a sense of strength and dignity to the role, which is often played in a far more supine manner.

Iago is of course one of the best villains in theatre, but what is often lost in portrayals are the motives behind his bitterness and treachery. Christopher Dingli gave full vent to the whispered wickedness of the character but he also managed to engage the audience's sympathy for his wrongdoing and, as with the best baddies, won them over to his side for a moment.

Charles de Bromhead was excellent as a slightly livelier Cassio than usually played and Nick Holbeck was a standout as Roderigo, actually pulling off that most unlikely of tricks and getting laughs from a Shakespearean comic character.

Laura Durrant was a strong Emilia and also proved a capable Bianca, standing in for her colleague Loren O'Dair who was rushed off to emergency dental treatment after losing a tooth in what was a literally show-stopping moment.

Despite the unintentional dental drama and the stop-start effect it had on the performance, this was still a show capable of capturing the crowd's attention. The cast performed in perfect harmony both musically and with the text and the multi-use sets, and simple but effective lighting and sound kept the audience engrossed in the action to the very bitter end.

Unlike the company's namesake, this show was no failure. The experiment with music may not have fully worked but it did make for a unique, new and interesting approach to a familiar story. If this is what comes from flying too close to the sun, then long may they continue.

 

Alex Thornton

In this, the Icarus Theatre Collective's national tour, Director Max Lewendel has sought to bring to life what he describes as the ‘musicality in the words’ of what is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest human tragedy. The result is something truly extraordinary - a wandering cast of string musicians, thunder, lightning, rushing water, squalling birds, a chaotic but beautiful cacophony of sound and performance. Does it work? Yes – but it’s a wild balance.

The great Venetian general, Othello, has secretly married Desdemona, the daughter of Senator Brabantio. Despite the scandal Othello’s defeat of the Ottoman Empire ensures that his reputation remains intact. However the greatest danger comes from within his own ranks – the soldier Iago, jealous that Othello has overlooked him for promotion, is becoming increasingly obsessed with jealous hatred and is slowly manipulating the small community to turn against, and ultimately destroy itself…

This deadly pressure cooker is exposed through Christopher Hone’s chaotic yet magnificent set design - pale blue curtains collapse in arcs to the floor, a wooden bridge tilts askew on stilts, candles in wicker baskets lie in corners, giving off an eerie, flickering energy. There are sudden bursts of jarring, dissonant music, as members of the cast wander the stage, each seemingly playing in their own separate space, yet covertly observing as Othello and Desdemona, initially still and ambiguous figures, move together for a kiss from separate sides.

So choreographed is this production that it is actually in danger of becoming too assured, of replacing raw drama with artistic effect. And at first the acting does appear slightly paced and one-dimensional, with Vinta Morgan coming across as an initially uncertain Othello. However this slightly erratic start gives way to a performance of great passion, and the strength of all the cast, in fact, is to let the natural force of the play take over, so that after the first few scenes this extraordinary fusion of music and drama begin to blend, with the result being something that is both sophisticated and explosive.

An essential subtlety is provided through Christopher Dingli’s Iago - as innocuous as a clerk, he works like a virus through the rest of the cast, gradually infiltrating it until the whole body finally disintegrates. In fact this is a production that is all about balance moving towards instability – the delicate balance of order and chaos, of music and performance, of masculine and feminine drive and tension - the cast take on dual parts and many of the male roles are played by female actors; costumes reveal breeches and boots beneath gowns; all the discordance of the earlier music is suddenly offset by Saint-Saëns glorious Swan towards the tragic end of the play, beautifully played by the incomparable Laura Durrant as Emilia, her own performance a mastery of antithesis in itself since she appears as a silent, longing musician throughout most of the production before erupting into passion towards the end.

Even the balance of chemistry between Morgan and Kate Colebrook – a sweet but slightly too sensible Desdemona – lends itself to the ultimate tragedy of the play. What appears at first be a slightly formulaic affection at first develops into the sense that, heartbreakingly, she is starting to warm more and more to him even as he begins to distrust her.

This is not a perfect production. It has so many elements to maintain that it is almost more of an opera than a play, and at times substance must give way to style. However it is a great production. The Icarus Theatre Collective is so professional that it must take its place in the very highest echelons of fringe – and this is a play that should be seen.



 

 

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