DIRECTOR Richard Twyman, only the third “guest” in the company’s 19 year history, has joined Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory for the 2017 season opener, Othello, in its second production on the former cigar packing floor of the converted Wills building in Bedminster.
The young director, who has recently taken over the reins at English Touring Theatre, stamps his authority on the Bristol company, relishing the chances to work with the large forces for which SatTF is famous, and to set his drama in the present day.
The timelessness of the play is underlined in the opening scene, as the Moor Othello, a Muslim in a Christian world, weds his Desdemona in a private Nikah. This is immediately followed by the fury vented by her racist and authoritarian father, whose will is overborne by the Duke of Venice.
The racism of the play is often cited as a reason for its infrequent productions, but here the villainous Iago transcends bigotry … he’s a psychopath whose evil breaks the fourth wall with its venom. There is nothing subtle about Mark Lockyer’s reading, and his wife Emila’s devotion is quite inexplicable.
Recent graduates Abraham Popoola and Norah Lopez Holden anchor the heart of the play with fervent passion, flirtatious lovemaking and instant doubt, creating a vortex around which their colleagues can only revolve.
The intimacy of the Tobacco Factory, and the intense lighting and sound scape devised for this Othello, make the inevitable tragedy all the more affecting, and its warnings against manufactured and fuelled hatred and fear all the more frightening.
The company includes Katy Stephens, a familiar face on local stages, as an Emilia who discovers her hatred for her husband too late, and Piers Hampton (better known as Wehner) as the duped and honourable Cassio.
This production is loud, full of swearing, pounding music and martial energy … the perfect Shakespearean play for 2017.
It is on in Bristol until 1st April, at Exeter Northcott from 9th to 13th May, Wilton’s Music Hall in London from 165th May to 3rd June, and at the Neuss Globe in greater Dusseldorf from 9th to 11th June.
The second SatTF play this season is Tartuffe, from 6th April to 6th May at Bedminster.
Photographs by The Other Richard