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June 16, 2009 | by  | in Arts Theatre | [ssba]

Othello Polynesia

There is a lot to love about the Black Friars’ production of Shakespeare’s ode to jealousy. The stage action, the stage combat that is to say, is easily amongst the best I’ve ever seen. The whole production had an energy and pace that couldn’t do anything but entrance this audience member.

The Black Friars clearly have a passion for theatre and for this play in particular and as infectious as that can be, it is with the heavy handed stress of passion and love that their faults become a lot more obvious. Some of the acting is a bit shaky, characters not really seeming to understand their point a sign of somewhat inconsistent direction.

There was also a noticeable amount of irritating technical muck ups. Actors struggled to find their light and voices were often lost or garbled. The use of cap guns at several points was also rather misjudged, everyone knows what a cap gun sounds and, if you’re in the front row, smells like, and their use only serves to make comical and absurd what should be two of the most affecting moments in the piece.

There also seemed to a rather odd disconnect between the production’s stated intent and concept, to portray Othello as the only palangi man in a non-white, pacific island world, and its execution. Semu Filipo’s performance as Othello was powerful performance, hypnotic to watch and very precisely perfect in its pitch, but wasn’t, as far as I could tell and talking to other audience members I wasn’t alone in this, caucasian. Their very interesting idea, one I would love to see, simply didn’t seem to be present in the finished show. In the Q & A after opening night, the director Michelle Johansson made reference to Filipo being in white face. Her phrasing implied literal make up but surely she must have been talking metaphorically. And sometimes, a metaphor isn’t enough.

That being said, there was a lot to love about Othello Polynesia. The high energy production was never boring and the performances, as a whole, all stepped up to fill the Hannah Playhouse’s daunting space. It was a perfectly competent production and with a little work on the frayed edges would turn it into the minor miracle that it so clearly has the aspirations and capabilities to be.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michelle Johansson

2 – 6 June 2009, at Downstage
Part of the Compleate Workes Shakespeare Festival 2009


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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