Othello, Gillingham School

REPUTATION, reputation, reputation … Cassio’s drunken rambling to Iago pinpoints a key theme of Othello, and one which was well brought out in Gillingham School’s powerful production of Shakespeare’s most difficult tragedy.

It is so difficult because we want to admire and respect its “hero” – in a way we don’t with, say, Macbeth, who turns from victorious soldier to bloodthirsty tyrant. But we are forced to shrink from Othello’s vile and violent jealousy.

We want to care about Othello the Moor because he has come through so much – through poverty and slavery to a lofty military role with the great Republic of Venice. He has earned respect – and the love of a beautiful (white) woman. But he is putty in the hands of a ruthless villain with a mind like a razor.

It was a brave choice for director Richard Lunn, asking his young cast to tackle these issues of sex, love, jealousy and true evil.

In this energetic production, with original music by David Simkins, the themes were clearly defined. Grace MacDonald’s Desdemona was a bright young woman, the adored only child of a loving father. She has no thoughts of any man but her handsome husband. There is an aching beauty to her singing of the Willow song, composed by Simkins.

Emilia (Dannan White) is her loyal maid, married to a man she still aims to please (Iago’s anger is to be feared) but in the end courageous and clever enough to see what has happened and risk/lose her own life to tell the truth.

Jai Whyntie captures the dichotomy of Othello – the confident military leader and the insecure husband, valued for his prowess in battle but feared and despised for his North African birth, even by the Venetian rulers who depend on him.

It is only too easy for “honest” Iago to play on his insecurities and trap him into a spiral of jealous desperation. Tom Dean exemplifies the villain who can “smile and smile” – handsome, charming, entirely credible … and all the more chilling for that.

William Boarder was convincing as Cassio, an honest soldier (even if we don’t like the way he treats his mistress Bianca) – another easy prey for the arch villain.

Gillingham School’s big hall has acoustics that work against the actors, and the music, while effective and interesting, was sometimes too loud, so the dialogue was occasionally lost. But there was an honesty and conviction in the performances that held our attention.

The long play was cleverly abridged – it was a huge undertaking, and congratulations to everyone involved in another successful Gillingham School production.


Photographs by Richard Lunn

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