Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Othello review at Union Theatre, London – ‘elegant, accomplished and beautifully designed’

Matthew Wade and Carlotta De Gregori in Union Theatre, London. Photo Scott Rylander
by -

Phil Willmott’s elegant production relocates Shakespeare’s play to the Edwardian British Raj and makes Othello a conflicted collaborator in the British army.

It’s beautifully designed. Justin Williams and Jonny Rust’s set, featuring the gold leaf-painted skeleton of an Indian palace, is exemplary. The scent of incense permeates the auditorium, creating the impression of a British army enjoying Indian exoticism while in denial about the more brutal reality of colonialism. Zoe Burnham’s golden lighting bathes the set, while torchlight is grippingly employed in the climactic scenes. Julian Starr’s delicate sound design heightens the production’s sensuousness even further.

Matthew Wade is arresting as the gentlemanlike but authoritative general who is also capable of real cruelty. Carlotta De Gregori is a graceful Desdemona, with a rebellious streak that indicates that she might have initiated the relationship with Othello, but she’s also innocent enough to unwittingly suggest that her interactions with Cassio (who, puzzlingly, has been transformed into a chaplain) might be more than merely cordial. Rikki Lawton’s spivvy Iago, here a member of the servant class without opportunities for promotion due to his birth and education, is particularly insidious in his falsely well-meaning attempts at being reassuring.

As a reminder of the cruelty and arrogance of British colonial rule, Willmott’s production poignantly exposes the ugliness behind a colourful backdrop in the centenary year of the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, a tragedy on a mass scale that led to the Indian independence movement.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Elegant, aesthetically and artistically accomplished staging of Shakespeare's emotive tragedy