Stratford-Upon-Avon: Othello

Shakespeare's funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church.
Shakespeare’s funerary monument, Holy Trinity Church.

We had seen a remarkable Othello two years ago at the National Theatre, with Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago, set in a contemporary military garrison resembling those in Iraq or Afghanistan. We almost decided to skip Othello this time, so as not to overlay our memories of that production.

It’s a good thing we didn’t skip it. This Othello, wonderfully acted in an ensemble mode, proved again the limitless facets in Shakepeare’s enigmatic masterpiece. The revelation here was the relationship between Othello and Iago, brought forward by casting a black actor as Iago. Not just any actor, but the effervescent and charismatic Lucian Msamati, who might have stolen the show away if Hugh Quarshie had not radiated such controlled and thoughtful power.

When Iago is white, Othello is entirely isolated, and it is no surprise to us that Iago plots against him. When he is black, suddenly we see Iago as Othello’s trusted subordinate, someone who stands with him, ready to carry out his wishes and provide him with information. When he is passed over, his loyal service unrecognized, he turns his ingenuity toward revenge. Othello continues to trust him, because Iago is his bridge to a world he only partly understands. Msamati’s Iago, always scheming and arranging, is busy spinning his spider webs, until finally he himself is caught.

Joanna Vanderham’s Desdemona deserves mention. There is no trace of victim-hood in her characterization. She is simply a young woman who follows her impulses without guile, and expects that the world will be as straightforward as she. A most refreshing take.

Grimeborn: Alternative Opera at the Arcola Theatre

The bar at Arcola Theatre
The bar at Arcola Theatre, an exellent place for a glass of wine before the show. (You can take it in with you.)

We love the Arcola Theatre, London’s most vibrant and ambitious alternative theatre. It’s up in Dalston, a maelstrom of multicultural life, once an area of dubious repute, but now verging on getting to be maybe nearly (dare I say the word?) trendy. Every summer, for those of us who can’t afford the Glyndebourne Festival, it hosts the Grimeborne Festival of Alternative Opera, where tiny, impoverished opera companies present glorious music.

Wednesday’s program was called The Clown of Clowns, consisting of two works: Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire and Sideshows, by Leo Geyer. The presenting companies were Constella Ballet & Orchestra in collaboration with Khymerikal. The program points out that “many of the musicians involved in this production are members of both ensembles”. Continue reading “Grimeborn: Alternative Opera at the Arcola Theatre”

“The Beaux’ Stratagem” at the National Theatre

National Theatre, London
National Theatre, London

“The Beaux’ Stratagem” is usually thought of as a late example of Restoration Comedy, and that’s how I was thinking of it as we entered the Olivier. I didn’t know the play, but I was ready for a saucy, boisterous romp. It took a little while before I adjusted to its more sedate rhythm and more polite treatment of sexual relations. It was, after all, written in 1707, at the cusp of the Restoration style and the more sedate (and forgettable) sentimental comedy of the 18th century.

At the interval, I said to Judith “I’m not sure what I’m seeing”. This, by the way, is not a bad thing. I love being made to stretch.

Continue reading ““The Beaux’ Stratagem” at the National Theatre”

“A Number” at the Young Vic

Opera Singer Busking at Blackfriars Bridge
Opera Singer Busking at Blackfriars Bridge

The Young Vic is just a stroll east from the Old Vic, along the street called The Cut. (The two theatres have no connection with each other, by the way.) We like the Young Vic very well, for its adventurous programming and its pleasant and affordable cafe. So it was that on Wednesday following our arrival, having booked tickets for The Beaux’ Stratagem at The National Theatre that evening, we sauntered down The Cut to see what matinees were on offer at the Young Vic. Continue reading ““A Number” at the Young Vic”

Back in London, August 2015

Judith at Gabriel's Wharf
Judith at Gabriel’s Wharf

We’re back, but we almost missed the plane!

We arrived at the airport three hours before departure, pre-booked tickets and boarding passes in hand, checked in our luggage, and went off to have something to eat. They’d closed the Swiss Chalet in Terminal 3 (something to do with the PanAm Games) and moved it to Terminal 1. We had a leisurely dinner and arrived back in Terminal 3 at 9:00 pm (10:00 pm flight), to discover a huge queue in security, filling the hall and spilling into out into the next room. We knew we could not make it. I wandered off talk to the Air Transat people, and suddenly heard this enormous cry “Roooon! Roooon!” echoing through that giant space. It was Judith. She had found a lovely family from Afghanistan, near the front of the queue, who offered to adopt us temporarily. The 12-year old daughter was very surprised that Judith didn’t simply call my cell, and instead depended on lung power. Humbly, we told her that we were very old school, in this and in other ways.

Even this line-jumping was not enough. At 9:30 Judith ran off and came back with an Air Transat official, who hustled us right to the check point. Judith saves the day (as she so often does).

The picture is of Judith, the heroine, sitting in one of our favorite restaurants in Gabriel’s Wharf, on the South Bank. Proof that we made it to beautiful, phantasmagorical London Town.