OthelloMacbeth – a play of two halves…

Or should that be a production of two plays? Or a production of two halves, each one a play? But are they two plays? In this world premier of the HOME and Lyric Hammersmith co-production, they are two, yet they are one.

And I shall tell you for why.

The plays (when discussing Othello and Macbeth, I shall from hereon in refer to them as ‘the plays’, and when discussing OthelloMacbeth, I shall refer to it as ‘the production’)…

And so, the plays, written by one William Shakespeare, are both linked by their tales of jealousy and power and this was non-more so apparent by the seamless fusion of their narratives in last night’s production.

However, we can’t give all the credit to the themes set out by Shakespeare those centuries ago, but some must go to  Salford-based Director, Jude Christian, and the incredible cast  of  Samuel Collings (Iago/Macduf), Grace Cookey-Gam (Lodovico/Lennox), Paul Courtenay Hyu (Brabantio/Duncan), Caroline Faber (Lady Macbeth), Kirsten Foster (Desdemona), Sandy Grierson (Cassio/Macbeth), Kezrena James (Bianca), Melissa Johns (Emilia) and Ery Nzaramba (Othello/Banquo).

But fear not (and I can feel the tension from those worrying just how alternative OthelloMacbeth might be), the heart of both plays are there – the dialogue faithful to the Bard’s writing, the delivery as passionate and empowered as any you would see in a ‘straight’ version of both plays at the RSC.

But the focus of both plays and indeed production, is shifted to the females, the spotlight and the narrative shifted both seamlessly but markedly to their roles in the plays and story. Whilst I would argue that Macbeth was perhaps quite ‘good’ for flagging up the females in the tale of murder, ego and greed, I would say that Lady Macbeth was played out, in this production, as no less strong but perhaps more sympathetically and softer in the delivery of lines and expressions as the weaker but markedly out of control Macbeth takes down those in his way. An example of softness adding a positive strength and sympathy to a character.

The women of Othello are dignified in their passionate reactions to the unjust (understatement) treatment of Desdemona by beau Othello and those around him as they storm, swagger and posture their way through the tale.

At this point, I should say that whilst all cast were truly mesmerising throughout each play and indeed multiple roles played, my attention was often stolen by Melissa Johns and her strong, feisty, funny, warm, determined depiction of Emilia.

With regional accents retained, traditional costume replaced by contemporary clothing, this does nothing to distract from the stories and impressive acting of the two great works.

Indeed, the sets are stark, particularly in Othello, the focus of the first half, where all action takes place in front of a stark, steel backdrop leaving literally nowhere to hide for the company. And as the first half, and indeed play draws to a close, the audience are treated to a blurring of the tales as the steel curtain is raised and Melissa Johns, Kirsten Foster and Kezrena James seamlessly evolve into the three witches of Macbeth…

Spellbinding, clever and captivating, I think even Shakespeare would be proud of this representation and indeed modern mash-up of his work.

OthelloMacbeth is faithful to not just the classic texts but moreover to the female roles taking them from the metaphorical wings to the centre stage.

Showing at HOME until Saturday 29 September, click here for more information and tickets.

Photo credits: Helen Murray

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