OTHELLOMACBETH offers a unique retelling of two of Shakespeare’s most brutal plays, highlighting the perspective of the female characters in a very modern way
As the Royal Exchange plays host to QUEEN MARGARET, a new play about Margaret of Anjou taken from Shakespeare’s original text, HOME, in collaboration with Lyric Hammersmith, go one step further by merging two classic Shakespeare texts into one with OTHELLOMACBETH.
OTHELLOMACBETH offers a unique retelling by taking the voices of some of Shakespeare’s most iconic female characters and placing them centre stage. Condensing two of Shakespeare’s most brutal and poetic plays – OTHELLO and MACBETH – into one bold two-hour performance, the ensemble move seamlessly from one play to another as the knowledge of what’s happened in one play directly impacts the world of the other.
Upon entering the theatre, Basia Binkowska’s striking set instantly sets the tone for the piece, the stainless steel walls pushed so far forward that the action is forced to take place in a narrow strip at the front of the stage. As the first half ends and the narrative takes a twist, the set opens up to reveal the expansive backdrop to MACBETH with white strip lighting, black tiled walls and a snowy white floor.
While the plot is largely faithful to the text, Director Jude Christian brings the women much more to the fore in both plays. In OTHELLO, the Othello/Desdemona/Iago triangle is further enhanced with Emelia (Melissa Johns) taking on more of a significant role as an unwitting pawn in Iago’s (Samuel Collings) plan. In MACBETH, Lady Macbeth (Caroline Faber) drives every action and is in complete control. The result is a visceral and thought-provoking production which highlights the perspective of the female characters in a very modern way.
An ensemble of nine take on the title roles alongside a handful of smaller parts. The standout performances come from Kirsten Foster who plays Desdemona with devastating effect and Samuel Collings as MacDuff, his reaction to the murder of his wife and children bringing life and soul to the character. Caroline Faber also contributes an extra dimension to the already complex female character of Lady Macbeth, clutching onto a baby blanket during her later moments of grievous remorse.
Yet, while OTHELLOMACBETH is certainly a fascinating concept, a couple of elements don’t work as well as expected. To fit into its two-hour running time, both plays have been heavily edited and at times, the scene changes are way too quick to really allow the actors to show their emotions. In MACBETH, Banquo’s zombie-like walks as he reappears as a ghost also feel more comic than terrifying and as a consequence, the play loses some of its power and momentum.
That said, the fusion of the two pieces is inspired and cleverly done with the wronged women in OTHELLO – Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca – becoming the three witches in MACBETH. The decision to bring the women to the forefront also raises some interesting new questions about the themes of jealousy, power and revenge, allowing you see both plays in a new light.
All in all, an innovative piece of theatre which turns something old into something new.
OTHELLOMACBETH runs at HOME, Manchester until 29 September 2018.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.