Othello (1993): Acting Initiative, Calton Centre, Edinburgh, Battersea Arts Centre, London
PRINCIPAL CAST: Sarah Baker (Cassio); Faith Edwards (Othello); Claire Fisher (Emilia); Andrew McDonald (Iago); Thomas Mooney (Desdemona).
This production ran at the Calton Centre, Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 1993 and at the Battersea Arts Centre, London from 12 - 31 October 1993.
The press release from the BAC contains the following information about the production: "The Acting Initiative bring their highly acclaimed Edinburgh Festival promenade production of Othello to BAC...In this challenging interpretation of Shakespeare's tragic tale of sexual jealousy, the company poses some thought provoking questions; sexual roles as well as racial stereotypes are reversed to produce an innovative yet highly 'approachable' staging....The roles of Othello, Roderigo and Cassio are played as, and by, women while Desdemona and Bianca are played by men. This selective cross-casting confronts the traditional Shakespeare convention of male actors playing female parts. When Iago plots against Othello after being overlooked for promotion, his vendetta is against a woman who seeks to raise her own sex to positions of power. She, in turn, is marked out from the Venetian aristocracy not only by her colour but also because she is a woman with considerable military prowess. Staged in promenade, and with a cage as the only set, the audience literally follows the action and a whole host of theatrical possibilities open up."
"The Acting Initiative do not simply cross-cast a woman as Othello. Their Othello is a woman, and her husband is Desdemona. This production can thus address women's issues as diverse as their capacity for passionate crime and their role in the military, without having to substantially revise Shakespeare's text. As the she becomes hes and vice versa, it is the insubstantial character of Desdemona which is highlighted. Othello's wife is acceptable as a cosseted object; the hypocrisy is that, as Othello's husband, Desdemona's behaviour remains slight and unconvincing. In Othello, however, we find a rich woman's role, a combination of Hilary [sic] Clinton and Ruth Ellis. Actress Faith Edwards uses the intimacy of this promenade production to create a multi-dimensional Moor, a performance matched by Andrew McDonald's outstanding Iago." ~ Roberta Mock, Independent, 25 August 1993
"If Faith Edwards makes a very credible Venetian General, this Desdemona, who is a big girl's husband, also looks like a big girl's blouse. Although the text often mocks his cross-casting, and his promenade staging limps a bit, director David Grindley succeeds piecemeal in highlighting sexual as well as racial prejudice in a fresh look at a familiar play....The gender-bending is no mere whim, however. Only the sexes of those cozened by Iago have been changed, and the racial and romantic tensions are largely unscathed. It's the gender-specific language of love and jealousy that trips the idea up, an in-built Shakespearean booby-trap awaiting interpretative directors. Nicholas Beck's cage design is a neat idea too: the characters enter it only when imprisoned by their own demons: Othello by her jealousy, Cassio by her drunkenness....The slender, fiery Edwards is riveting to watch once she loses her early smiley demeanour to the rigours of jealousy. She has an excellent foil in Andrew McDonald's fiercely saturnine (and very male) Iago, devious ice to her volatile fire." ~ Nick Curtis, "Gender bending in a gimmicky cage of follies", Evening Standard, 20 October 1993
"Striding round stage with the elongated step of a child mimicking grown-ups, this Othello is a hyperactive young soldier with rolling eyes and a voice like a laser. 'He' is also a woman, and Desdemona a man...The action takes place round a large chicken-wire cage, into which Othello finally steps when the gnawing poison of Desdemona's jealousy becomes too much to bear. Never mind that Faith Edwards' gut-rippng, ear-splitting performance is desperately exaggerated: it still hits the spot." ~ Michael Wright, Time Out, 20 October 1993