Thursday, February 23, 2012


So It Goes at the Etcetera Theatre, Camden Town

Desdemona [Emily Swatton] sleeps in her wedding sheets, motionless on the black floor. No sooner does she stir than the Moor has his hands around her throat; she struggles a little, and is still once more.
Brabantio's dream, no doubt, for though this Othello is heavily cut, we must surely see all the workings of jealousy.

Director Douglas Baker imagines Venice in a vaguely Victorian world, with rapiers, a hip flask, a couple of modest medals on Othello's chest.
The style is bold, almost guignol at times, though the soliloquies, in this tiny space, are very effective, allowing an almost televisual intimacy, with the smallest facial expression finding telling eloquence.
Andy Seaman's Moor is not as rough, not as exotic, as some, very much a perfect gentleman until maddened by jealous rage. But he did find some delightful subtleties in the monster. His Iago [an impressive Philip Nightingale] was a shifty, sinister figure, a subtle villain superbly suggested in voice and manner. Their first “green-eyed monster” scene was excellently done. And the valiant Cassio, Fergal Philips, with his dashing good looks and practised swash-buckling, did a wonderful drunk scene. Other striking moments were the erotically-charged handing over of the fatal napkin, and poor Barbary's song as Emilia [Adriana Maestranzi] gently helps Desdemona undress for her bed. And then we're back to the nightmare where we came in, and the piece ends with “It is too late – put out the light, and then put out the light.”

No programme or cast list of any kind was provided, so one wondered which of these fine actors would appear in Messina after the interval. In the event, just one, Paul Norton making a pair of wronged fathers with a down-to-earth Leonato.

This much abridged Much Ado was set in the 40s, perhaps, opening with the girls sitting in the sunshine, shelling peas. Zoe Thomas-Webb gave us a fast-paced, warm production, often moving in its insights into the characters.
Our Beatrice [Eva Lea] was young, flirty, her exchanges with Benedick almost teenage banter. It was noticeable that she couldn't take her eyes off him the moment he came back from the wars. He proved a sensible Benedick, playing the reluctant lover with a light touch. The cast of nine included Sophie Marlowe's icy, elegant Julia [standing in for Don John], Michael Cusick's dapper Claudio and a lovely Margaret [Amy Butterworth], willing a happy ending, but racked with guilt, too, almost confessing her wrongdoing to Benedick [which, had she done so, might have shortened the play still further]. As it was, we missed the coda where Don John's capture is reported, just as in Othello we were spared the bloodletting and the revenge which follows Desdemona's murder. And I'm sure no-one missed Dogberry and company, some of the unfunniest comic turns in the canon, and that's saying something. We did have a splendid double gulling [Benedick behind his Picturegoer Film Weekly, Beatrice behind a washing line], and there were many deft touches in this piece too – "Kill Claudio" half smothered in an embrace, a cheeky look back from Leonato as he sets up Hero's second wedding [Sarah Barker the slandered virgin], contrasting with his inability to look back at her when he drags her off in shame after her public humiliation.

Both pieces exhibited admirable clarity of text, and a realistic staging which went straight to the heart and the soul of the drama. Etcetera Theatre is a modest black box, not very soundproof, over the Oxford Arms on busy Camden High Street. But, as Shakespeare knew, there can be a profitable symbiosis between pub landlord and players in search of a stage. And I'm sure he would have been impressed to see such a successful double bill, scarce more than two hours' traffic the pair !

this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews

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