The State Theatre Company of South Australia closes their 2014 season with an impressive production of William Shakespeare’s Othello. Director Nescha Jelk has created a modern world in which the conflict plays out; a military world, certainly, though this element of the story is not over-emphasised. The set (Victoria Lamb) is harsh and bleak, and accentuates the importance of relationships to give any meaning, any distraction, to life. Within this sphere, the characters are natural and believable – while love and passion is an ever present issue, macho behaviour exists, men dominate, women fight for recognition and understanding, and personalities clash. The relevance of the events and ideas within the text for today’s audience is well demonstrated while not feeling like it’s being unduly stressed or signposted.
In the title role, Hazem Shammas is strong and likeable; he is a man who has succeeded in life, both professionally and personally, despite the prejudiced attitudes and expectations of others. From a confident, positive, amiable character, we witness his decent into jealously, paranoia and destruction. Shammas makes this downward spiral pleasingly gradual and smooth, leading to a final act Othello who has lost all judgement and seems to be fuelled solely by desperation. While his handle of the language and ability to express the meaning of the verse is excellent, the descant of his speech would have benefitted from greater variation in the later, emotional, scenes.
Ashton Malcolm creates a Desdomona who is feisty, flirty and self-assured, as well as genuine and sweet. Her father Brabantio’s (Chris Pitman) complete lack of understanding of the true nature of his daughter is both laughable and credible at the same time; no doubt representing many modern father/daughter relationships. Malcolm and Jelk have crafted a female character whose blameless actions may easily be misinterpreted and misrepresented by the male dominated world.
Renato Musolino’s characteristic calm power is ideal for Iago. Here is a man that is calculating and controlled at all times and has the charisma needed to easily make those around him do his bidding. In his hands, the idea that he would set this whole plot in motion – whether out of revenge, malice, a depraved sense of fun, or a combination of all three – and expect to get away with it, is completely convincing. As is the idea that so many people would trustingly play into his hands.
As the easily manipulated Roderigo, James Smith is a perfectly pitiful mixture of lust and naivety. His barely contained hormonal recklessness is a nice juxtaposition to Iago’s cool control. It is also well contrasted by Taylor Wiese in his portrayal of Iago’s other pawn, Cassio, as a more self-assured and competent soldier who none-the-less gets played for a fool – making him a good bridge between Roderigo and Othello.
In her three roles, Elena Carapetis has shaped nicely distinct characters. The portrayal of Bianca as an innocent local girl, besotted with the foreign soldiers but still strong in her own mind, is another brilliant choice from Jelk, and Carapetis captures this duality well. However, it is during Emilia’s speech about the hypocrisy of expectations surrounding virtue and her final standoff with Iago that she is truly commanding.
This is an admirable main-stage debut from director Jelk, and her excellent cast and crew have created a production that is interesting and powerful.
Kryztoff Rating: 4K