Otelo, Southwark Playhouse
Nicole Espinoza and Jaime Lorca aided by puppetry put on this abridged, Spanish language version of Othello. It focuses on Act 4 onwards where Iago plot his demise of Cassio.
I am not the biggest fan of long plays and Shakespeare is king of long plays so I actively encourage amended versions, just go on Wikipedia or even read the play if you want the full story. The Spanish language brings an intensity to an already intense play (domestic violence, jealousy, race issues-Othello has it all) and there is a nice reference to the Telenovela, which dominates Latin American television. This is a passionate production of a passionate play, which in the world of glass ceilings and diversity still rings true today.
The puppetry is the show’s real star, aided physically and vocally by Espinoza and Lorca’s performances you forget that Othello is not an actor and Lorca is talking to himself as he plays Iago as a simpering servant, giving a massage and comfort to his master whilst effectively stabbing him in the back because he has betrayed him by employing Cassio as his Lieutenant and his unfounded belief that Othello is sleeping with his wife, Emilia. Emilia is Desdemona’s loyal servant and if anything has as much contempt for Othello as her husband. I am not entirely convinced by the character’s naivety when Iago asks her for Desdemona’s handkerchief, something I have never considered in the story.
Oddly Viajeinmóvil’s work is at its best when it is human and puppet or puppet and puppet. Espinoza and Lorca are great performers but the source material doesn’t give Emilia or Iago much to do when Othello and Desdemona are around. It all comes together when Desdemona and Othello are alone after he is lead to believe his wife is unfaithful to him.
Despite its short running time, this production feels more energetic than the Adrian Lester Othello at the National Theatre (my first and only full production of Othello) and what could be a distraction for monolingual English speakers, the surtitles, aids rather than hinders what is going on the stage.
Unlike Hamlet at the Park, I don’t think anyone new to Othello or with no grasp of Spanish would struggle to understand what is going on, we still see the background of Othello and Desdemona’s early marriage and we still get to understand the characters relationship and development. I think if this has been translated to English speaking that passion the production emits would have been lost.I will be first in the queue if this production team decide to tackle other Shakespeare’s in a similar way.