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Othello review at Abbey Theatre, Dublin – ‘high on adventure’

Peter Macon in Othello at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Pat Redmond Peter Macon in Othello at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Photo: Pat Redmond

In an adventurous production by the Abbey Theatre, it’s astonishing to have to guess at the villain’s motives, but while Marty Rea’s Iago is excellent he is also allusive. These manipulations of the mind require better foundations.

The real world poses a problem, with the walls of the auditorium convincingly extended to encompass the action in the present. Director Joe Dowling is interested in contemporary pursuits of power and exchanges a 17th century Venetian council chamber for a UN-style conference room. That might add urgency to the invasion of Cyrpus by the Turks but it feels bizarre when Othello’s new wife Desdemona (a dutiful Rebecca O’Mara) is rolled out to defend their marriage.

Masculine scenes of modern warfare, however, make interesting surroundings for the female characters. Karen Ardiff’s revelatory Emilia feels the pressures all round: “I do think it is their husbands’ faults / If wives do fail”.

But the unspecified combination of setting (is this the Abbey, or the Cyprus shore indicated by Riccardo Hernandez’s set?), foreign influences (Conor Linehan’s music and David Bolger’s movement) and accents (ranging from African to the heavy Dublin colloquialisms of Liz Fitzgibbon’s Bianca) might risk exoticism in a play with a tremendous legacy of consciously representing race.

The powerful Peter Macon squeals and bear-hugs as excited newlywed Othello but the production struggles to strike a more serious tone for his downfall. Such is our disorientation you forget why the green-eyed monster rears its head.

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Contemporary dress production which though high on adventure is ultimately ungrounded and lacklustre