Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan





Othello Sparkles at Stratford's Avon Theatre
Bethany Jillard (left) as Desdemona, Brad Hodder as Cassio and Deborah Hay as Emilia. Photo by Michael Cooper

Othello is Shakespeare's tragedy centred on jealousy and doubt that is enflamed by slander and deceit. It releases anger that erupts into the Moor's deadly mistake of killing his faithful wife, Desdemona, who defies social convention and her father's will to marry him. It is about jealousy and resentment afflicting Othello's ensign Iago concerning an appointment to higher rank in the military pecking order and how that slight festers such that using powerful guile, during Othello's mission to Cyprus, Iago meanly plants the seeds that will destroy Othello's love.

Rave reviews of Stratford's production include the following:

"From its startling opening moments, when Julie Fox's splendid set transforms itself from a series of Rothko-esque crimson panels into jagged geometric configurations, while Michael Walton's lighting slashes scimitar-shaped shadows through the landscape and Thomas Ryder Payne's ominous soundscape hums like the droning of a thousand killer bees, you will be held in thrall by this production." (Toronto Star)

"I don't think I've ever seen the first half of Othello presented with as much clarity, complexity and pace as it is here. It almost seems that one has scarcely had time to draw breath before the Machiavellian web of Iago's malevolence has all the requisite insects trapped inside it, but - in truth - 90 minutes have gone by with incredible rapidity." (Toronto Star)

"Graham Abbey portrays Iago with a sociopathic charm that almost has you routing for his twisted plot to work. The audience knows Iago better than any other character in the play does, and it begins to become easy to at least partially see the other characters through his eyes. Characters like Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio are likeable, but at the same time, there is a thrill in seeing everything unravel because of Iago's desire to do just that, for seemingly no reason other than to create chaos by playing puppet master."

"As the titular character, Dion Johnstone brings a sense of passion, intelligence, strength, kindness, charm, and a fleeting vulnerability to Othello in the first act, and as the play progresses, that vulnerability becomes less fleeting and eventually turns into an irrational jealous rage that encompasses all of his other strengths, and in fact using them for an unintentional evil. Its Othello's passion, power, charm, and intelligence, that allow him to maintain Desdemona's trust and love even as he begins to scare her with his seemingly unfounded jealousy. This in turn leads to her demise. Mr. Johnstone's portrayal is truly magical. He can tell a story with his eyes, and can convey the passion and the torture he is feeling as doubt and jealousy begin to overtake him." (BroadwayWorld.com)

"The new Stratford Othello is red hot. That goes for the way it looks, sounds, feels and takes possession. Chris Abraham's electrifying production, superlatively designed by Julie Fox, unfolds on a scarlet-drenched revolving rectangle, moved by humans rather than hydraulics, and itself backed by red panels. Billowing white curtains provide occasional contrast, functioning mostly to denote Desdemona's bedchamber, of which we're given a teasing glimpse a couple of scenes before the play and its hero move in for the sacrificial kill. This is presented right down on the lip of the stage and is as detailed and as shocking as I have ever known it."

"The set is capable of thrilling instant transformations; from the tumult of the Venetian streets to the full order of the senate, and from there to the storm that greets Othello's arrival at Cyprus. It goes up and down as well as round and round, and it tilts so as continually to bring the action and the characters closer to us, thus conquering the notoriously flat and distant Avon Theatre stage." (National Post)

In Chris Abraham's Director's Notes (Chance, Doubt and Faith: The Puzzle of Shakespeare's Paint of View in Othello) he relates: "Several months before rehearsals began, Graham Abbey (who plays our Iago) and I were discussing the meaning of the play. We were wondering why chance seems to be on Iago's side for so long. We wondered what Shakespeare was scratching at there."

"One of my favourite commentaries on the role of chance in Othello - and on the play in general - comes from A.C. Bradley's collection of lectures Shakespearean Tragedy: The skill of Iago was extraordinary, but so was his good fortune."

"There is no doubt that an unmistakable haunting vein of dark fatality runs through Othello. But the play's design also takes pains to show us the nobility and grace of individuals attempting to save their loves through a mounting series of traumatic losses. Is all this valiant effort in vain? Has fate truly taken sides with villainy? What sense of meaning and/or hope does Shakespeare want us to reclaim from the pile of bodies strewn about the stage at the end?"

"In my search, I've tried to look closely at the way the play tests Christian values, and it's in these moments that I see the beginnings of a powerful truth - not the kind of truth that can be possessed with certainty but one that is found through a leap of faith. This countervailing force, rooted in selfless love, is, in its most acute moments, a powerful invitation to see light in the darkest places."

"However, at the end of the play, Iago offers a bitter and enigmatic answer to Othello's demand to know why he did what he did. He tells us, "What you know, you know." Iago is not simply frustrating our and Othello's desire to understand his motivation and the meaning of the play; rather, he is re-conjuring the play's most vexing question: can one ever truly know the heart of another person?"

"Othello, like those other great tragic creations Hamlet, Macbeth and Lear, struggles to locate the truth in an uncertain world; a world of seemings and appearances. How is one to know anything about anybody? What is true and what is false? How can you know for sure? Are we fundamentally that mysterious to each other? It's a terrifying question and one of ultimate importance, hinting that the dynamics of doubt and faith, more than jealousy, constitute the maddeningly dangerous subject of the play."

Othello plays at the Avon Theatre until October 19. See http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/



Bethany Jillard as Desdemona and Dion Johnstone as Othello, Graham Abbey as Iago. Photo by Don Dixon  Bethany Jillard, Dion Johnstone. Photo by Don Dixon  Deborah Hay (left) as Emilia and Bethany Jillard as Desdemona. Photo by Michael Cooper  Graham Abbey (left) as Iago and Dion Johnstone as Othello. Photo by Michael Cooper  Graham Abbey as Iago. Photo by Michael Cooper   Mike Shara (left) as Roderigo and Graham Abbey as Iago. Photo by Michael Cooper

Bethany Jillard as Desdemona and Dion Johnstone as Othello. Photo by Michael Cooper


Othello | The Deadly Seeds of Doubt | Stratford Festival

Othello | 2013 Stratford Festival


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