JOYCE MCMILLAN on OTHELLO at the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 24.6.13.
3 stars ***
OF ALL SHAKESPEARE’S plays, Othello is the hardest to watch. Its story represents such a miserable decline from happiness to horror, such a wretched triumph of hatred over love, that audiences still gasp in shock and exasperation as they watch it unfold, more than 400 years on.
And the story is all the more unrelenting when it’s presented in the simple, unvarnished form adopted by Gordon Barr for his opening production of this year’s Bard In The Botanics season in Glasgow. In this uncluttered two-and-a-half-hour version, there are just six actors, and one simple, adaptable set, set on the company’s favourite sloping lawn. The play’s complicated sub-plot is all but gone, the action is left firmly in period, and its focus remains tightly on the story of the great love between the black Venetian general Othello and the lovely Desdemona; and its decline into a nightmare of murderous jealousy, engineered by the pure hatred of Othello’s adjutant, Iago.
Yet still, people roll up to watch, drawn by the play’s magical poetry, its terrible inevitability, and the power with which – towards the end – it uses the figure of Iago’s wife, Emilia, to point a raging finger at the horrible, patriarchal male culture which would sacrifice a young woman’s life, rather than subject Iago’s accusations to any proper judgment. And with three of Barr’s finest actors – Nicole Cooper, Kirk Bage and Jennifer Dick – excelling themselves in the roles of Desdemona, Iago and Emilia, the tragedy rolls to a heartbreaking and thought-provoking conclusion; as the Glasgow summer evening fades to darkness, and the rain holds off, under a heavy sky.