After 400 years, the works of William Shakespeare are still produced on stage, in film, and in text. It seems that film adaptations are created on the regular, each trying to put a new spin on an old, familiar story. Romeo and Juliet as two crime families in the ‘90s. The Tempest set entirely in a house. A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed with Czech puppets. The list goes on and on. But every so often, a story from the Bard is produced in its original form — on stage. From the very first scene of the Phoenix’s production of Othello, it stands as an example of what the art form of theatre is capable of and how captivating it can be.
From the very first scene, the set designers have taken advantage of a movable set with stairs, doorways, and a sheet used for a sail, a river, a blanket, and a tent. The creativity in how the changing sets are used is a genuine delight to see, as is how the characters interact with them. The ensemble is also used to move the sets around and how they do that feels organic to the world of the play. The play also features a few fight scenes which uses a smoke machine. This combination makes everything feel more tense. Everyone takes advantage of the stage at the Chief Dan George Theatre, making it feel like a living, breathing world.
Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the performances. The actors put their all into Shakespeare’s words and manage to capture that sweet spot in acting where the dialogue truly does sound natural. Ciaran Volke, who plays Iago, deserves a special shout-out. It’s clear he’s having a grand time playing a classic villain. He especially shines after he’s left alone with the audience and swings to centre stage with a cruel smile as everything starts to fall into the palm of his hand. Tallas Munro as Othello and Georgia Duff as Desdemona also put on great performances that turn from sweet and charming to tragic as the play reaches its conclusion.
The production takes place over three hours, so make sure you come prepared for a long night. There are a few moments where things move more slowly, but for the most part, the time goes by pretty quick.
Due to the nature of the Chief Dan George theatre, there are some moments where you will be watching the back of someone’s head depending on the location of your seat. At times, this makes certain actors somewhat hard to hear. With all the great acting, it’s disappointing to miss out on those moments. But when the actors stand centre stage or manage to convey their performance to everyone in the theatre, it’s a gift to watch.
If you’ve been wanting to see Shakespeare but haven’t gotten the chance, definitely give Othello a shot.
Othello ran at UVic’s Phoenix Theatre until Nov. 23.