Custom/Practice’s production of Othello on the archaeological site of the remains of the Rose Theatre is an enthralling, atmospheric and utterly engaging show that delivers five-star performances from its eight-strong cast. The site housing the Rose’s remains, cavernous and foreboding, is the perfect setting for this gripping production of Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Othello (Nana Amoo-Gottfried) and Iago (Cary Crankson) in Othello at the Rose Theatre, Bankside, London Photo: Robert Piwko
The performance space itself occupies only a small area of the site, with the remains of the Rose - covered by a protective layer of water - stretching out beyond it. But as the audience is seated on boxes and benches, a figure can be seen pacing up and down in the shadows on the other side of this small lake, ghostlike and mysterious. A sound design of eerie noises - creaks, drips and sighs - adds to the sense of unease.
The production begins with the torture of Iago, played by Cary Crankson. In this scene, director Suba Das shows us that his version of the play is not going to be an easy watch, as two men pierce Iago’s skin with metal rods. It’s a moment designed to make you squirm and wince.
From here on, the production rattles by at a fast pace, with characters appearing from chests and under sheets.
Although a small space, Das and his team succeed in making excellent use of it, with a standalone metal staircase on wheels moved around it to tremendous effect. More than anything, though, it provides Crankson’s Iago with a place from which to watch the consequences of his mind games unfold - from above, like a puppeteer. His control over the action is also demonstrated by using magician-like hand gestures to herald a new scene, a lighting change or to stop the other characters in their tracks.
Crankson is mesmerising as Iago. His performance is so completely engaging it is hard to take your eyes off him. His asides to the audience are intense and menacing.
Nana Amoo-Gottfried, meanwhile, is a brilliant Othello, and his descent into rage, brought about by his jealousy, is perfectly pitched.
In all, this is a tremendous production, and Das makes great use of the space at his disposal, with clever lighting used both in the performance space and to illuminate the remains of the Rose beyond it. It’s a production of Othello that deserves to be seen. And one can only hope the show’s 18 rating, which is actually unnecessary and clearly a marketing device, doesn’t end up putting people off.