Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Othellomacbeth

William Shakespeare
HOME and Lyric Hammersmith
HOME, Manchester
14 September 2018 to 29 September 2018

When presented with a mash-up of Shakespeare’s Othello and Macbeth you don’t really expect to come out humming the sets. But award-winning designer Basia Binkowska, together with lighting designer Jushua Drualus Pharo, provide some of the excitement the production otherwise lacks.

Othello is played on a fore stage, in front of a vast steel-panelled screen, which rises just before the interval – as the first play merges into the second – to reveal a huge, tiled, black box of a space, with white tiled floor, a solitary tree and a rocking chair. Above both sets is a metal mesh gantry, almost in the roof of the theatre. With plenty of smoke, lighting effects that chop-change-blackout the action in the current popular style, it’s all very impressive.

I’m not however as enthusiastic about director Jude Christian’s concept overall. She has had the idea of putting the women from both plays more to the fore, not by re-writing – apparently everything here was written by Shakespeare – but by cutting some of the men’s lines to change the emphasis.

Much depends on how well you know the texts. I’m far more familiar with Macbeth than Othello, and it took me around 15 minutes to focus on what the Moor was up to, but then it proved the more satisfactory part of the show.

As Othello concludes, Kirsten Foster’s Desdemona, Melissa Johns’ Emelia and Kezrena James’ Bianca don camo jackets as they morph into the Three Witches of Macbeth. It’s effective, but that really is the only obvious link between the two plays. Lodovico and Lennox (who he?) are played by a rather stately Grace Cookey-Gam, but much of the rest is done pretty straight by the cast of nine.

And Macbeth, the play, I’m afraid lacks the thing above all that Macbeth doesn’t lack, and that’s drama. Both plays are in modern dress and the cast are aiming for casual delivery of their lines, which is fine but not when it robs them of clarity and conviction.

I liked Samuel Collings as Iago and Macduff; Kirsten Foster as Desdemona and Sandy Grierson as Cassio/Macbeth.

I saw it at a schools matinee and it seemed to go down OK: it’s certainly rather different to the schools matinees I used to be marched across town to at the Library Theatre many years ago. I just hope the kids had a strong grasp of the text beforehand.

Reviewer: Alan Hulme