Othello review at Liverpool Everyman – ‘a magnificent performance’
One of the many pleasing things about the recent spate of cross-gender casting in Shakespeare – apart from the obvious joy of getting to see actors of immense skill playing these roles – is the way it re-energises the plays and makes the lines shine in new ways.
The Liverpool Everyman has played an ace by casting Golda Rosheuvel as Shakespeare’s jealous general in the third production of the company’s second rep season. She’s an actor of nuance and power.
Rosheuvel has already played Mercutio – she was one of the best things in Daniel Kramer’s divisive Romeo and Juliet for Shakespeare’s Globe. By playing Othello explicitly as female, and as a lesbian, the play takes on new weight and begins to speak resonantly about the different way people are ‘othered’: by race, gender and sexuality.
Gemma Bodinetz has located her production in a modern military base in Cyprus. Rosheuvel’s Othello is a quietly commanding presence. She doesn’t need to roar to break up a brawl. She combines grace with authority and a necessary metallic edge; that is, until Patrick Brennan’s Iago starts dripping his poison in her ear.
Brennan feigns comradeship well as his Iago strives to bring her down. Misogyny becomes part of this cocktail. Her presence appears to offend him. Is he a relic of an old system, resentful of the way the world is changing, or something more malignant? Brennan plays him with a slippery efficiency.
Emily Hughes gives the always slightly thankless role of Desdemona an endearing brightness. Cerith Flinn’s Cassio is a laddish but genial young soldier, all abs and swagger, prone to getting tanked on vodka. The production makes us aware of the costumes they both wear: her delicacy and femininity, his masculinity.
The staging is fairly plain until designers Molly Lacey Davies, Natalie Johnson and Jocelyn Meall transform the stage into a vast, gauzy white bed for the final scene. The decision to play things in-the-round sometimes detracts from the tension. Characters dash on and off a lot and there’s a lot of scurrying around in the balconies. This has a diluting effect on the production’s momentum.
The staging feels a bit functional at times, but it twists the text in ways that are compelling and Rosheuvel’s performance is magnificent. On her lips, lines take on new shades of meaning. When Othello ponders, quietly and reflectively, “Why did I marry?” it carries different connotations.
The later scenes of her growing jealousy could have been unpicked further – it feels too rapid, too sudden – but the way the production deals with Othello’s sexuality and her status amid this world of men is fascinating. It’s a treat to watch Rosheuvel tackle this role and the potency of seeing a woman, particularly an older, black woman, occupy this place of narrative centrality cannot be underestimated. More of this, please.
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