By Fanny Charles
Everyone in Othello starts out with a clearly-defined reputation: Othello is noble and brave, Desdemona is virtuous, Cassio is honourable, Emilia is loyal, Iago is honest. At the end, two reputations are shattered, three people are dead, one will soon die under torture and the survivor will have to take on the mantle of courage, virtue, loyalty and honesty. Othello is a VERY difficult play, and particularly so for a young cast, tackling themes of jealousy, trust, honour and sex. So, all credit to Richard Lunn and his Gillingham School actors, musicians and back stage team for a production that was powerful, truthful and moving.
We want to admire Othello as a “hero” – he is not ruthlessly ambitious like Macbeth, who morphs from victorious soldier to bloodthirsty tyrant. We want to care about Othello the Moor because he has come through poverty and slavery to military glory with the mighty Republic of Venice. He has earned respect and the love of a beautiful (white) woman. But he is putty in the hands of a clever villain with a mind like a razor – and we, in turn, shrink from Othello’s violent jealousy.
Grace MacDonald’s Desdemona is an enchanting young woman, the adored only child of a loving father. She has no eyes for any man but her handsome husband. Composer David Simkins’ music for Desdemona’s Willow song was poignant – and beautifully sung. Emilia (Dannan White) is her loyal maid, married to a man she still aims to please (Iago’s anger is terrible), but in the end courageous and clever enough to see what has happened and risk (lose) her own life to tell the truth.
Jai Whyntie captures the dichotomy of Othello – the confident military leader and the insecure husband, valued for his prowess in battle but feared and despised for his North African birth, even by the Venetian rulers who depend on him. It is only too easy for “honest” Iago to play on his insecurities and trap him into a spiral of jealous desperation. Tom Dean is handsome, charming, entirely credible … and all the more chilling for that.
William Boarder was convincing as the honest lieutenant Cassio (even if we don’t like his callous treatment of his mistress Bianca) – he is another easy victim for Iago. Gillingham School’s big hall has acoustics that work against the actors, and the original music by David Simkins, while effective and interesting, was sometimes too loud, so the dialogue was occasionally lost. But there was an honesty and conviction in the performances that held our attention. The long play was cleverly abridged – congratulations to everyone involved in another memorable Gillingham School production.