The ADC’s production of Othello has received a lot of publicity, principally because of the decision to change the gender of many of the main characters, and after opening night it is clear that the hype was well deserved. The daring decision to cast one of Shakespeare’s most famous roles as a woman exposed the misogyny that is usually contained within an intensely insular, masculine drama and is excellently managed by director Robbie Taylor Hunt.
Lola Olufemi as Othello and Laura Waldren as Iago held an extraordinarily ambitious production together through their electrifying friendship turned conflict. Othello is a notoriously difficult role to play, yet Olufemi held her own on a potentially overwhelming stage, providing new insight into language that is frequently perceived as singularly masculine. Waldren as Iago was particularly impressive, with her moments of silence as powerful as her speech. Occasional laughter from the audience proved the necessary sense of discomfort generated by their performances, as they appeared unable to decide how to react to moments of almost comedic cruelty against the background of inevitable tragedy.
The pair’s suffering spouses (Oli MacFarlane and Aoife Kennan) heightened this discomfort and further intensified the change created by the gender swapping, for as Desdemona, MacFarlane’s unquestioning submission is far more shocking in a male role. The rest of the cast were also reliably strong, a reminder of the importance of the ensemble in Shakespeare’s tragedies.
Presumably in order to intensify Othello and Iago’s joint sense of exclusion in an inherently masculine environment, scenes were often interspersed with aggressively loud yet strangely short pieces of music that seemed like unnecessary afterthoughts, added into a production that had already mastered the art of exclusion. Similarly, the performance of grief sometimes appeared too melodramatic, lacking the subtlety of the rest of the play.
Yet, despite melodramatic moments that appeared at odds with the whole production, Taylor-Hunt’s direction impressively reinvented Othello and demonstrated that tragedy is not simply a genre that should be confined to the past, but instead completely relevant to the twenty-first century. This is not a simply another tired Shakespearean adaptation; it is not to be missed.