Reviewed by Dave Smith
Independent Theatre’s disciplined production of Othello at the Odeon, Norwood, stood up well to close scrutiny. To frame this striking production the director, Rob Croser, chose a broad, stark set with several height variations and backed by high prison-style bars. Its bareness concentrated the audience’s attention on the essential psychological action of the play.
Othello is in many ways the most poignant of Shakespeare’s tragedies. It deals with the destruction and death of Othello and Desdemona, on the way drawing out the critical themes of jealousy, betrayal and futility, not to mention racial prejudice. The sub-title for the play is, after all, The Moor of Venice.
The full house on opening night was for the most part held in thrall. Casting young Liberian-born actor Shedrick Yarkpai as Othello was a bold decision. To begin with he seemed a little mild in manner and thus lacking sufficient warrior’s gravitas. In the end, however, that was no problem. It gave way, as the play developed, to many strong and compelling scenes where he displayed genuine torment at Desdemona’s apparent infidelity. His earlier credulous demeanour was the perfect target for Iago’s despicable scheming.
Countering this essential decency was Iago (Nicholas Bishop). His characterisation was excellent, in turns ingratiating, raging and ruthlessly duplicitous. His growing dominance over Othello was established subtly and with physical power.
Kate Englefield played Desdemona with authenticity and sensitivity. It is a role that in the wrong hands can be cloying and superficial. Englefield was credible throughout, and clearly showed her character’s confusion, puzzlement and sense of betrayal.
Lyn Wilson as Emilia, Nicholas Ely as Roderigo and Andre Vafiadis as Cassio gave strong performances and, together with the three principal actors, brought a tight ensemble to the stage in what was an intense and convincing production.