British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database
Othello (1994): Custard Factory, Birmingham
PRINCIPAL CAST: Clinton Blake (Othello); Carolyn Coleman (Emilia); Michael Glenn-Murphy (Iago); Jacqui O'Hanlon (Desdemona).
This production subsequently played at the Watermans Theatre from 25 February - 12 March 1994.
"...Custard Factory has built itself a reputation in its home town of Birmingham for productions of the classics that are far from sweet, squidgy and yellow. But with the Othello it is now bringing to London the company has, I fear, taken on a play somewhat beyond its physical and emotional resources. Even with Richard Wills Cotton's Roderigo skilfully swivelling and bending so that his callow Roderigo becomes the aged Brabantio, or Carolyn Coleman's Emilia putting on a half-mask to play the colonial potentate Montano, the five-person cast is pretty pushed....Only at the end, though, do the cuts have great impact on the play's clarity and meaning. Jacqui O'Hanlon's sweet Desdemona - having weirdly transformed the Willow Song into a Negro spiritual - is duly asphyxiated by her husband. Emilia is stabbed by Michael Glenn-Murphy's Iago. Clinton Blake's Othello then does himself in, as he must. But that leaves only two performers who aren't corpses, one of them Iago himself. Who, then, can carry him away to lingering torments? Nobody, really; and he is left to stand at the back, gloating over his handiwork. Is it the intention of the director, Julie-Anne Robinson, to show evil triumphant and unpunished? Certainly, she accomplishes this more successfully than her professed aim, which is to draw 'very clear modern-day parallels by emphasising the fact that Othello's marriage is public property and how this public knowledge is used to destroy his marriage.' Though the cast sometimes choruses lines - 'O thou Othello that wert once so good' an hour before it actually occurs - there is scant sense of the play having a 'public' dimension. That needs more than five actors and a pile of cushion on a tiny stage backed by a frilly purple curtain. Blake's Othello could be stronger in the charisma, authority, love, pain and rage departments, but Glenn-Murphy's Iago, though apt to launch into melodramatic snarls, mocks and sneers effectively enough. I also liked Coleman's slatternly Emilia, who slouches round the stage justifying her husband's suspicions of her fidelity and, hence, his vindictiveness. There at least is an idea for a more complete production one day to reuse." ~ Benedict Nightingale, "Moor turns out to mean less", The Times, 1 March 1994.
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