Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Othello Review

Stratford Festival 2013
A Drama by William Shakespeare
Avon Theatre
Directed by Chris Abraham
Running now through October 19
Information and Tickets at

Othello – Stunning Visuals Make for a Special Production
Rating ***½ (3 ½ out of four stars)
Reviewed by David Grapes – August 2013

From the moment you enter the Avon Theatre and view Julie Fox’s stunning minimalistic blood red set design, you know that you are in store for a special kind of Othello. A large raked platform that spins and provides many architectural shapes it is one of the most unusual designs that I have seen on the Avon stage and really serves the production well. The design allows for fast scene changes while at the same time providing a wonderful pallet on which Michael Walton could create his evocative and powerful lighting design.  In particular, I thought his use of lanterns to create shadows on the back stage was extremely effective. Toss in the lush textured costumes (also by Fox), the imaginative soundscape by composer/designer Thomas Ryder Payne and you have one of the best design packages of the 2013 season.

Those of you who get to Stratford every year will no doubt remember that very funny production of The Matchmaker that director Chris Abraham gave us a couple of seasons back. Well I am pleased to report that Mr. Abraham is not a one trick pony. While he has not directed many previous productions of Shakespeare he knows his craft and his Othello is both easy on the eyes and the ears.

Led by Stratford veterans Dion Johnson (Othello) Graham Abbey (Iago) and Bethany Jillard (Desdemona) this Othello is lean, mean and well spoken.  

The past Co-Director of the National Theatre School of Canada Directing Program, Abraham obviously has a great understanding of theatrical stagecraft. He gives us beautiful stage picture after beautiful stage picture using every inch of the Avon stage and Fox’s scenic design.

However, no matter how gorgeous the design elements may be at its core transformative theatre must always be about characters, in which we can invest both spiritually and emotionally. Here again Mr. Abraham and his cast do not disappoint us. The acting is truthful and heartfelt. My only complaint would be that I wish that Mr. Johnstone had found a bit more emotional and vocal variety in the plays final scenes. These large emotional scenes near the play’s conclusion are always a trap for the actor and I felt that Mr. Johnstone perhaps went too quickly to vocal level 10 and stayed there. However, this is a small flaw in an otherwise very solid performance. Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most demanding roles and Mr. Johnstone demonstrated that he was more than up to the task.

Othello has been staged many times at Stratford and this 2013 edition is one of the best in recent memory. If you can go see Martha Henry in Taking Shakespeare first and then go see Othello!

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