Despite being one of Shakespeare’s more sombre plays, all female company Smooth Faced Gentleman find humour in his sobriety, most prominently through Roderigo who is played with jester-like oafishness. This lightness is well sought as, rather than attempting to endow this abridged story of a black army general betrayed by his seemingly loyal subordinate with the slowly built tension of the full length original, it gives the retelling it’s own bold identity.
Of course, the unique branding is most obviously gleaned through the cast’s gender, but dressed in matching military-style khaki uniform over which items are added (Desdemona – a skirt, Iago – a beret) this shared garb becomes a second skin, making them neither men or women but merely players.
With few props and much multi-roling, the lively direction is aided by seven wheel-mounted door-frames fronted with venetian blinds (a nice touch – the characters a Venetian). These mobile panels denote walls and doorways but are also playfully snapped up and down to comic effect – a rogue hand placing a beer bottle before disappearing.
As Iago verbally drip feeds his poison, the gradual erosion of Othello and Desdemona’s relationship is tremulously portrayed; the former building to climactic rage that sees him snarling like a cornered dog, the latter traumatically perplexed with ignorance for the source of her husband’s anger. Sadly Iago lacks the sly cruelty that belies his crafty plot, a shame for such a pivotal role.
Although ostensibly a play about race, in light of the many scandals that have dogged our own democratic establishment, it’s the theme of political deceit that feels most timely about this creative, considered and playful production.