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Othello - The Watermill Theatre, Newbury

Karla Marie Sweet’s adaptation of the Shakespeare classic is a bold reinvention. I found myself leaving the theatre with a lot to say, as it evoked a mixture of opinions. Some of the twists and modernisations are a welcome uplift with others falling slightly flat.

The military twist on the themes works well for the characters’ development and relationship building, particularly between Iago, Othello and Cassio throughout the production. Their speech falls in the happy middle ground of not too modernised and not too traditional, keeping it powerful and easy to follow.

When performing a text with racial elements woven into it, the diversity of gender, race and background within the cast is particularly poignant. There is also an underlining theme of female empowerment; with Desdemona fighting back against Othello, Emelia not facing her fate (unlike the original text) and Desdemona having a controlling, strong-willed mother instead of a father.

Iago, played by Sophie Stone, was wonderfully rounded as a character; full of illustrative gesture and interpretation. Her brash delivery was superb and her gender or deafness didn’t matter for a moment. I hung on every word, as she delivered each one with such meaning and power. Truly entrancing to watch.

The music integrated into the piece ranges from Billie Eilish to Doris Day but I found the majority of the numbers slightly jarring within the natural flow of the production. Some were too short to have an impact at all, with others not quite bringing enough significance.

The Watermill never fails to deliver on actor-musicians, with this production presenting some talented individuals who effortlessly turned their hands to strings, brass and woodwind at the drop of a hat.

Strong choreography, which arguably didn’t have enough time to flourish, is worked around the cube, which dominates the Watermill’s small stage. The choreography had elements of BSL and wove itself beautifully around the cuboid scenery, which created a bedroom, office and gym. The corrugated metal panels slid back and forth and the clever lighting transformed the space into whatever it needed to be.

Overall, this refreshing production featured no weak link in the cast teamed with thought-provoking elements and ideas to create an engaging evening of innovative Shakespeare.

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