Monday, 15 October 2018

REVIEW: othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith

Based in the heart of Hammersmith is the beautiful Lyric Hammersmith theatre, which is currently home to othellomacbeth, a condensed version of the Shakespeare tragedies Othello and Macbeth, joined one after the other with a transition appropriate to our modern day society. This is a bold production combining with HOME in Manchester, having played there last month before transferring to London.

To do such a bold move of putting these two well loved tragedies together means that director Jude Christian needs to really pack a punch with the staging, but sadly it was rather hit and miss. In particular at the beginning of Othello I believed that the staging was very static, and the actors didn’t seem sure whether they were addressing the audience or each other, making a confused opening. However as the play progressed, the spacing became clearer and dialogue flowed with more conviction, being exciting at points, and the Three Witches as such added a haunting and multi-layered depth to the second half.

The biggest triumph of the play has to be Basia BiƄkowska’s Stage Design. This shouldn’t be surprising, considering she recently was the winner of the highly prestigious Linbury Prize 2017 and it’s not hard to see why. Her use of colour in Macbeth was simply sublime, creating a black and white stage and carefully placing a tree in the background, and having a clear tank of water, which turns a bright red with the washing of blood (illuminating Macbeth’s actions and guilt) centre stage. My one critique would be that due to the nature of the set, I could sometimes see actors or stage managers in the wings, which sometimes drew attention from the scene. Joshua Drualus Pharo’s lighting beautifully complemented the striking set, and Nick Gill’s complex sound design added to the tension of the piece dramatically, although at times I would have preferred it to be subtler. 

There was generally good acting and connection to the text, which picked up
once the play had started going. In particular for me, Sandy Grierson excelled as both Cassio and Macbeth, being fully connected and impulsive whenever he was on stage, and convincingly capturing the difficult role of Macbeth. Kirsten Foster and Caroline Faber as Desdemona and Lady Macbeth respectively both gave strong performances too. Foster’s vulnerability shone through with crystal clear articulation, whilst bringing a real presence to her ghost/ witch. Faber showed her delicate vocals in the first half, whilst giving a fiery yet exposing performance whenever on stage, and you could tell she was fully in the zone.

I wasn’t fully taken with Ery Nzaramba as Othello at first, as he didn’t appear fully connected to the text, but once he got into the role he captured Othello’s true unpredictability. Melissa Johns gave a strong performance as Emilia and excelled when bouncing off of Foster in their scenes together. 

Overall I think there was a clever link relating the two tragedies with a ‘victims getting their own back from the grave’ slant, but it didn’t add much to the overall plot, and I feel like I saw two reduced Shakespeare tragedies and not one new exciting re-imagination. Whilst othellomacbeth doesn’t revolutionise theatre, it does entertain, and gives a good night out.

Review by Adam Yorke

Rating: ★★★

Seat: stalls H19 | Price of Ticket: £20
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