Talking Movies

June 11, 2016

Othello

The Abbey joins in the Shakespeare 400 celebrations with its first ever production of Othello and it’s a vibrant cracker

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Beware my lord of jealousy, it is the green-eyed monster that doth mock the meat it feed on

Respected soldier Othello (Peter Macon) has secretly married Desdemona (Rebecca O’Mara), to the dismay and fury of her father Brabantio (Peter Gowen) when he is roused with the news by failed suitor Rodrigo (Gavin Fullam). But the support Brabantio initially receives from his peers on the Council; Lodovico (Barry Barnes), Gratiano (Michael James Ford), and the Duke (Malcolm Douglas); evaporates when they realise his righteous indignation is directed at Othello, for the Ottomans are moving against Cyprus, and Othello is Venice’s indispensable man. Little does Othello realise that Cyprus will turn out to be a psy-ops front rather than a naval engagement. For despite being governed by his friend Montano (Des Cave) Cyprus will prove no home as his ensign Iago (Marty Rea) whispers poison in his ear in an attempt to usurp Cassio (John Barry O’Connor) as Othello’s lieutenant.

Director Joe Dowling seems to dispense with Coleridge’s celebrated ‘motiveless malignity’ of Iago for a fascinating interpretation; that Iago himself is acting throughout under the spell of the same species of madness he casts over Othello. While he is resentful of being passed over for promotion, his true anger seems to circle around his wife Emilia (Karen Ardiff) having betrayed him with the Moor. Iago’s cold treatment of Emilia thus seems a parallel to Othello’s rough abuse of Desdemona – having been turned against her. And his wail at the result of his handiwork adds to this impression; a man suddenly waking from a fugue state horrified at what he’s done. Macon’s performance is extremely impressive, and surprising. Instead of ‘the noble Moor’, dignifying every syllable, he gives us a soldier whose early scenes of camaraderie are rambunctious bordering on rowdy, and whose descent into madness involves howling, screaming, and an epileptic fit. Othello’s modesty about his linguistic skills can seem farcical given his poetic eloquence, but here it signals insecurity because English is his second language, as the American Macon delivers Shakespearean verse with some acutely noted notes and flourishes of sub-Saharan African speech. Rea, in a rare occurrence, is asked to act in his own Northern Irish accent, and this also strips away posturing. Instead of grandstanding in his own villainy in RP, Iago is a street-corner slouch of bored contempt and hidden spite; in which each soliloquy seems to expose a man trapped in his own world of hatred – given memorable visual expression by Sinead McKenna’s lights spotlighting a wordless conversation between Cassio and Desdemona while Iago creeps closer to them, railing at them, lost in solipsistic hate.

Desdemona’s passivity works best as a sheltered girl’s naivety about the world, but O’Mara is too old for the role. Desdemona is thus infuriatingly clueless, but O’Mara does gives full impact to James Cosgrove’s fight direction by selling one of the most shocking stage-punches I’ve seen. Ardiff is a highlight in support making Emilia a beacon of common sense and proto-feminist, but rendering Bianca (Liz Fitzgibbon) as an O’Casey streetwalker is a cheap and mean gag. Dowling’s staging is less naturalistic than previous returns from Minneapolis like 2003’s All My Sons or 2011’s The Field. Indeed Act 3’s celebrated temptation scene takes place against what becomes a blood-red backdrop of ocean upon which vast shadows are cast as Iago corrupts Othello. Before that Venice has been represented by a massive suspended plaque, and as Othello descends into psychosis the walls almost literally close in on him, as the ocean backdrop is truncated by successively closing over more and more of the wooden panelling of Riccardo Hernandez’s set which is identical to the Abbey’s off-stage decor.

It remains bizarre to have chosen this play because of one line, which elicited sustained tittering heedless of the dead and maimed littering the stage during its delivery, but Dowling affords the Bard’s tragedy of jealousy a bold debut.

4/5

Othello continues its run at the Abbey Theatre until the 11th of June.

August 7, 2012

The Plough and the Stars

Director Wayne Jordan reprises his acclaimed 2010 production of O’Casey’s old warhorse, but, even with returning stars Joe Hanley and Gabrielle Reidy on good form, this fails to ever soar…

O’Casey’s final Abbey play sees the 1916 Rising explode into the lives of the extended Clitheroe family and their tenement neighbours. The socially ambitious Nora Clitheroe (Kelly Campbell) is cordially disliked by her neighbours Mrs Gogan (Deirdre Molloy) and Bessie Burgess (Gabrielle Reidy). Cordial dislike also exists within the extended Clitheoroe clan as the preening Citizen Army member Uncle Peter (Frankie McCafferty) is tormented by the Young Covey (Laurence Kinlan) for placing nationalism above socialism. Ignoring these political discussions is Jack Clitheroe (Barry Ward) whose pride has seen him resign from the Citizen Army on being passed over for promotion. However, when it’s revealed that he was promoted, but Nora hid the letter because she wanted him out of danger, Jack furiously leaves her to join a monster rally that stirs the patriotism of even the disreputable Fluther (Joe Hanley). But though the Rising has begun Nora isn’t finished yet…

This show lacks the comic vim of recent O’Casey productions, and this makes it feel slow-paced. Peter and the Covey just don’t strike sparks the way they should, and without that relationship being totally anarchic Nora is no longer trying to keep order in a madhouse but is merely trying to social climb within a tenement, which makes it difficult to empathise with her. Nora’s line “What do I care for th’ others? I can only think of me own self”; an attitude that would’ve brought the French Revolution to a shuddering halt; becomes uncomfortably emblematic, especially as it immediately precedes her pleading with Jack to come home,utterly oblivious to the disturbing squib-enhanced suffering of his dying comrade. Thankfully Hanley is very funny as Fluther, and Reidy very skilfully executes O’Casey’s most complicated character as she lifts the curtain on Burgess’ constant abrasiveness to reveal an equally generous heart.

Kate Brennan’s grimly realistic costume and make-up as the prostitute Rosie Redmond is contradicted by the overly self-performative turn she gives alongside Tony Flynn’s complementarily pouting barman. The effect is disorienting, and when the viciously combative Burgess and Gogan arrive into this milieu it defeats Casey’s satiric intent in juxtaposing Pearse’s rhetoric with poverty the new republic would not ameliorate. The high-flown idealism of the Man in the Window becomes a relief from such petty squalor. The unflattering juxtaposition caused riots in 1926 but here the blood-thirsty speech is instead rendered only slightly more extreme than Jefferson’s “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Oddly enough its genuinely rousing effect is counterpointed by the production’s most moving moments being the unseen troops singing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ as they march past on their way back to the hell of the trenches, and the two English Tommies climactically crooning ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’. The latter moment saves an act almost ruined by an imaginary window within Tom Piper’s steel scaffolding set being established then sloppily ignored…

This is a decent show overall albeit with serious flaws, but in the wake of tremendous renditions of The Silver Tassie and Juno and the Paycock ‘decent’ can only disappoint.

2.5/5

The Plough and the Stars continues its run at Belvedere College until the 15th of September.

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