Sunday, 7 February 2010

Othello at the Akademitheater, Vienna

It is in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens to the which our wills are gardeners; so that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many, either to have it sterile with idleness or manured with industry - why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. Iago

6th February,

There are some characters left out, Gratiano and Ludovico for example, and there is an absence of opportunists, hangers-on and freeloaders such as one finds on the fringes of society's upper echelons. In Gabriella Bu├čacker's Othello it matters not, for the stage will be full of debris soon enough.

And soon we, the audience, will be involved too; silent accomplices to Iago. We shall be the lackeys, the clowns, the gossips, the whisperers; and when not these we shall turn a blind eye. That's our part in the tragedy of Othello.

It's a dark night in Venice. The theatre is blacked out. One or two stars twinkle in the heavens. Iago and Roderigo are abroad. There's much shouting. Brabantio (played by Branko Samarovski of the Oscar nominated film The White Ribbon) is disturbed. There comes a nervous cough or two, and a shuffling of feet, there's an adjusting of positions, movement in the dark, a twitching of handbag zippers. The audience is suitably nervous. That's good.

And then suddenly we are in the full glare of the Court of the Duke of Venice. Here Branko Samarovski comes into his own. We note, for instance, his bemused and agitated delivery; its exactness.

No sooner do we partake of the theatrical officialdom of Venice and thereby meet Othello and Desdemona than there comes a great storm which not only sinks the Turkish fleet bound for Cyprus but almost destroys the theatre, or so it seems; with great clanging, and the flying apart of black corrugated metal sheets, a slow toppling of a steel post, and a whirlwind of dust we are magically transported to the island of Cyprus.

And it is in Cyprus that the tale, the tragedy, the inevitable story now unfolds. Iago, a persuasive Edgar Selge, hatches a terrible plot. And much of the scheming, in the Shakespearean manner, is rightly reasoned through by means of nuances and sly innuendos in front of stage aside dialogue. Selge's Iago uses this technique to compelling effect and brings us all along, draws us into the web of his bitter-sweet confidences. We are now silent conspirators.

Othello has conveniently strung up his military hammock to one of the few trees left standing after the great storm. This device presents Felix Dryer (Lights) with the opportunity to create gigantic shadows of the moment we are all waiting for; the evil deed, the naked Othello's murder of his innocent bride Desdemona, will be magnified on the back wall of the stage.

The theatre programme contains the bloodstained handkerchief; the circumstantial evidence of a man's folly. We can take it home and admire its delicate embroidery. And we can reflect on why nothing much has changed since 1604, the year of the premier, and why the colour of a man's skin is always deemed to be of some great importance. Joachim Meyerhoff (Othello) lived the part; he knows the answer.

A tragedy for our times, and for all times.


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