Othello 2015 – Press Roundup

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Our first reviews for our brand new show Othello have arrived! Here’s an overview of the way it’s been received. We’re very pleased that it looks like people are taking to it at least as much as Titus Andronicus.

We’ll publish a round up of Titus’ reviews shortly, and keep this post updated as more press comes in.

Plus, there are a bunch of brand-new production photos by Mo El-Fatih scattered through.

At the bottom of the page is a full list of all the reviews. But for anyone who doesn’t have the time to read them all, here’s a round up, plus a few highlights of what people have said about certain aspects of the production.

Contents:

  1. Round-up
  2. Gender
  3. Actors

Round-up

Firstly, for the impatient, here’s an extract from each of the reviews we’ve had…

Let’s start with a long one.

There is so much to enjoy in this production. The depth of emotions are fully inhabited but never overdone. There is great physical agility as well as emotional dexterity. And the humour and comic touches show human foibles as intricately intertwined with the darker emotions that have such dire consequences…
Iago, Cassio & Montano
Completely faithful to the language and to the spirit of Shakespeare, Smooth Faced Gentlemen create their own original interpretation and reveal the play in all its timeless relevance…

I can’t recommend these productions highly enough. These are real gems of the Fringe.

Morelle Smith, Cafe Babel

And a few short ones…

Bright with invention and bursting with talent!

Louie Woodall, Shakespeare Standard

A riveting production that tells its tragic story with clarity and appeal

Danielle Farrow, Edinburgh Spotlight

Full of laughs and tears… deserves a great audience – this show is a must see!
Andra Roston, Edinburgh Evening News

Three word statements were pretty common, “thing, that and the other”…

Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s ‘Othello’ brings a new dimension to one of Shakespeare’s finest tragedies…
Slick, polished and dynamic.

Megan Wallace, Three Weeks

This is a solidly performed and directed take on the Bard’s testosterone-laden study of betrayal, revenge and all-consuming sexual jealousy…
Bold, energetic and enjoyable

Dawn Kofie, Broadway Baby

A very strong take. This play of war, male pride and deception is electrified by an all-female cast… Above all, this is significantly accessible Shakespeare: clear-eyed and direct…
V
ital, compelling and smart

Andrew Allen, Fringe Review

Feminist Fest sent two reviewers, giving us double the chance of a good review (or a bad one). Luckily, they were in agreement:

The Smooth Faced Gentlemen are a troupe used to taking on the oldest boys club in town, so it comes as no surprise that they’ve knocked it out of the park with their all female production of Othello.  From the sharp WWII inspired outfits to the slick direction, the performance felt fresh throughout its 70 minute running time.

Morgan Fraser, Feminist Fest

An exceptional production. It’s entertaining, accomplished, and compelling – easily carrying the audience from laughing with the fool, to snarling at the antagonist without a hitch. I’d recommend it to any theatre goer

Maia Almeida-Amir, Feminist Fest

The Skinny, who gave us a very lovely review last time, returned to review both shows, and thankfully weren’t disappointed…

An immensely likeable take on a tragedy that shifts between comedy and drama with confidence… manages to be accessible and fun without sacrificing depth

Neil Weaving, The Skinny

An exciting, fast paced production that ably delivers the tragedy in 70 minutes, Smooth Faced Gentlemen have created an enjoyable and intellectual stimulating show.

Joseph Schofield, Theatre Bubble

Smooth Faced Gentlemen are as polished as they come. Not that this means they take themselves too seriously; the most impressive feat of this production is how funny they’ve managed to make Othello… stunning comedic timing and sparkling wit.

On the whole, this is a production you must see if you’re looking for Shakespeare at the Fringe. It combines compelling drama with clever humour, producing a well-rounded adaptation of Othello that holds your attention for the full seventy minutes. So if I had to describe it in one word? Smooth.

Ellen McPherson, Fringe Guru

Gender

Desdemona arrives in Cyprus

It’s always interesting to talk about how the all-female lens exposes gender questions in the work, and to learn how the topic is perceived.

“O these men, these men!” exclaims Desdemona mere scenes before her murder. Othello is, among other things, a play about women abused by men – disbelieved, insulted and finally killed. Except in Smooth Faced Gentlemen’s production, there are no men.

As delivered by an all-female cast, the line leaps out, underlining the masculine aggression of the play’s testosterone soaked culture.

Catherine Love, Fest

Feminist Fest, were always going to consider these questions, and both reviewers had some interesting points to make:

Without emphasising the fact that the players were all women (the original pronouns are kept), having women expressing traditionally masculine sentiments, such as the jealousy of a spurned suitor, made the words far more poignant and somewhat eerie.

Maia Almeida-Amir, Feminist Fest

The use of only female actors is no gimmick – these women are not playing men, but simply actors playing characters.

Morgan Fraser, Feminist Fest

Nail on the head, Morgan. Similar point picked up by Callum Madge:

Of course, the unique branding is most obviously gleaned through the cast’s gender, but dressed in matching military-style khaki uniform over which items are added (Desdemona – a skirt, Iago – a beret) this shared garb becomes a second skin, making them neither men or women but merely players.

Callum Madge, TV Bomb

I’m going to stop writing comments now and just let the reviewers speak for themselves:

This interpretation draws attention to the traditional notions of gender in the text, and reconfigures them in interesting ways… in blurring notions of male and female in this Othello, Smooth Faced Gentlemen have created a staging that holds true to the basics of Shakespeare’s tragic tale, whilst complementing it with humour and new nuance, developing meaning.

The production does raise plenty of questions surrounding gender and sexuality, occasionally highlighting the sometimes-misogynistic attitude of the traditionally male characters with a knowing look to the audience that adds some necessary humour… the nature of an all-female cast supports Emilia’s argument that, intrinsically, they are all the same.

Joseph Schofield, Theatre Bubble

While it’s true that the script arguably occupies itself with the challenges of male communication and chest beating, the fact that each part is being played by a woman allows the audience to strip back their reactions of such interpretations and simply respond to the words being said…

Whether it is getting involved in another man’s personal life, or an actual military campaign, it’s all about an occupation of space.

Andrew Allen, Fringe Review

The cast provide a convincing portrayal of masculinity without ever feeling the need to reach into The Big Bag of Social Stereotypes. And, although you’re aware of their gender, there’s no sense of it ‘getting in the way’ or detracting from your enjoyment. What the casting does do is draw attention to men’s physicality, and the way that they occupy space and demonstrate status.

Dawn Kofie, Broadway Baby

Undoubtedly the casting invites reflections on Shakespeare’s gender politics as well as on our own modern concepts on what differentiates men and women. Yet it is far more interesting – and enjoyable – to watch the Gents own these male roles without applying these conceptual filters.

Louie Woodall, Shakespeare Standard

Desdemona is punished for being a strong woman by the patriarchal forces, represented by Iago, and is broken until she fits into a more passive mould. Having an all-female cast questions the concrete and opposing values which society often attaches to men and women, suggesting a more subtle and fluid definition of gender.

Megan Wallace, Three Weeks

Would be really interested to hear from more of our audience what you thought of the gender questions in the show. Did it speak to you? Or did you just forget the cast were all women – and if so is that a bad thing or a good thing? Feel free to comment below, in the comments (anarchic, huh?).

Actors

Iago, Montano, Othello & Cassio

The universal consensus is about one aspect of the production:

What really made Othello such a fantastic performance was most definitely the actors themselves

Buxton Fringe Review

The cast are no doubt the best part about the whole production

Feminist Fest

It seemed to me that there was something extra that this cast brings, like an extra current of nuanced feeling that washes through the play, an extra buoyancy and flexibility.

Cafe Babel

Anita-Joy Uwajeh as OthelloAnd I think it’s a sign of a great show that each reviewer had their own ideas of who shone in a uniformly strong cast. Obviously, AJ’s performance in the title role blew people away:

Anita Joy Uwajeh demands our attention as Othello, first with subtle charm then with explosive and unpredictable anger

Ellen Macpherson, Fringe Guru

In the early scenes Anita-Joy Uwajeh invests Othello with humour and easy charm. And later on she’s compelling as she makes the transition from carefree lover to tormented, fury-fuelled wretch

Dawn Kofie, Broadway Baby

Othello himself was also great, and Anita-Joy Uwajeh captured his innate decency as well as his jealous rage. Played out across Uwajeh’s face was the bite of the early racism and the conflict over whether to believe his new wife or trusted friend. It was gut-wrenching to watch Uwajeh’s ready smile become increasingly hollow as Iago’s lies began to take hold.

Simon Fearn, EdFringeReview

Uwajeh’s Othello offers a bracing interpretation of the character. She captures his necessary sexuality and charm – we believe that this Othello could be the beloved commander of the Venetian forces. She fights with strength and fluidity, though all her physical prowess is juxtaposed with Othello’s naivety

Joseph Schofield, Theatre Bubble

But you can’t review the play without giving your two cents on Iago either…

A stellar performance from Ashlea Kaye (also the company’s artistic director) as a swaggering, duplicitous Iago

Neil Weaving, The Skinny

Ashlea Kaye as Iago

The standout, though, is Ashlea Kaye’s Iago, Othello’s nemesis. He’s truculent, marinaded in spite and far from a stock villain. It’s clear that he relishes the pain and confusion he’s causing, and his satisfaction when things are going his way is obvious.

Dawn Kofie, Broadway Baby

Kaye is so utterly convincing in her role

Morgan Fraser, Feminist Fest

The undoubted highlight was Ashlea Kaye’s tremendous turn as Iago. Her stage presence was such that your eyes were drawn to her even when she was just a bystander, and her blank, narrow eyed expression as she watched Othello and Desdemona together captured Iago’s insidious envy.

Simon Fearn, EdFringeReview

Iago is beautifully believable as one others trust – making great sense of ‘honest Iago’ – and brings a very natural manner to his plots and machinations.

Danielle Farrow, Edinburgh Spotlight

Kaye owns every scene she plays in, imbuing Iago with a steely self-control and amoral – near inhuman – malice that both repels and enthrals.

Louie Woodall, Shakespeare Standard

 

The female characters in an all-female production can sometimes be overlooked in critical responses, but not this time…

Henri Merriam as Emilia and Helen Coles as Desdemona

One of strongest portrayals of Desdemona I’ve seen… Coles makes a fantastic Desdemona, a character who I often struggle with in other productions; here, she’s both charming and ballsy.

Ellen Macpherson, Fringe Guru

Helen Coles’ Desdemona, too, is spirited and imbued with strength and intelligence. She’s confident and vocal, even in the face of her husband’s wrath.

Dawn Kofie, Broadway Baby

Coles’ portrayal of Desdemona is one of wilfulness and courage

Morgan Fraser, Feminist Fest

Helen Coles also shines as Desdemona. In this production the character’s inherent strength and faultless virtue is emphasised over and above her naivety, which suits Coles’ mastery of facial expression and delicate use of space. Such an interpretation makes her unravelling following Othello’s accusations of adultery all the more heart-wrenching to watch.
Louie Woodall, Shakespeare Standard

And Emilia too…

But it’s Henri Merriam as Emilia who steals the scene, with the chat about the nature of husbands and marriage. It was here that the female control of this production made itself known, and where I most appreciated it.

Ellen Macpherson, Fringe Guru

Special mention must go to Henri Merriam’s confident performance as Emilia.

Simon Fearn, EdFringeReview

Henri Merriam shines in her small role as Iago’s wife Emilia, who provides much of the emotion for the final scene.

Morgan Fraser, Feminist Fest

But it’s not just the obvious characters that the reviewers are loving. Everyone seems to have their own favourite…

Iago & Roderigo

The humour worked brilliantly thanks to the cast, not least Hannah Morley as the rich but dim Roderigo.

Morgan Fraser, Feminist Fest

…most notably, Roderigo, who is played with jester-like oafishness

Callum Madge, TV Bomb

Roderigo is aptly funny

Danielle Farrow, Edinburgh Spotlight

The whole cast did so flawlessly – notably Sharon Singh who switched from the Senator to Montano to Bianca skilfully, even including a range of excellent accents!

Buxton Fringe Review

Terri Reddin as Brabantio

It is Terri Reddin that threatens to steal the show whenever she is onstage. Her immaculate timing and inventive foolery characterise the production

Laurie Atkinson, EdFringeReview

Terri Reddin’s comedic turn as Desdemona’s father, Brabantio (she also played several other characters), set the tone for the entire production

Morgan Fraser, Feminist Fest

Other areas that many reviewers talked about, were our use of comedy (mostly favourably, though it offended some with slightly more traditional tastes), our cool Venetian Blinds, the beautiful design (by Bex Kemp).

But this post is long enough for today. I’ll update as more reviews come in.

Just four more shows left in Edinburgh!

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