What happens when you cut Shakespeare to an hour and twenty minutes? Twice? And try to link two plays together? This is what OthelloMacbeth at HOME does.

The design dominates Othello, stainless steel panels on the rear wall coming far forward so that the action is pushed right to the front of the stage. This makes the production quite static, which for the most part is OK because the action is quick and snappy. But I’m not convinced about the decisions as to which material to cut in this first half, and it becomes a case of ‘follow the handkerchief’ at times. Normally, Othello is built around the triangle of Othello/Desdemona/Iago but here Emilia becomes a very significant role to create a more equal balance, a very positive decision. But what is lost as a result is the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. The scene changes are at times way too quick to allow the actors to show their emotions and scenes become mere words. There just isn’t enough chemistry.

Set design (Basia Binkowska) really comes into its own as the violence is cracked up and every impact leaves a permanent imprint on the thin steel. The ending is skewed towards the experiences of Desdemona and Emilia which is effective, except that we haven’t built up enough empathy for Desdemona’s situation to feel what we should be feeling. As the first half ends there’s a very clever and effective slide into Macbeth as the wronged women become the three witches of Macbeth.

After the interval we move to Macbeth with the same actors playing fascinating reversals in dynamic. The set is opened right up, white strip lighting, snowy white floor and black tiled walls with a single tree to the rear, an afterlife if you like. Along the top runs the same bridge from Othello but it’s now much more prominent, and it is from here that the weird sisters orchestrate Macbeth’s fate. If the Desdemona/Othello chemistry was absent in the first half, the Macbeth/Lady Macbeth dynamic in the second half is completely compelling. She drives his every action, in complete control, and her fate is all the more moving as a result. At one point we see only these four women on stage, an intelligent scene on which the entire second half revolves. In Macbeth the cuts are inspired, landing on just the right themes to contrast with Othello and to drive the story onwards. Because scenes flow easily the pace is measured and somewhat ethereal. As a stand alone play this Macbeth is wonderful; I was mesmerised.

As a whole this play directed by Jude Christian is a fascinating concept, placing the women into stronger roles than we normally see and raising new questions about the themes of ambition, revenge and jealousy. The links between the two plays are cleverly done, and many of the decisions we see in Othello make much more sense once we see the mirrors that Macbeth throws up to Othello. Despite some shortcomings in the Othello, it really does work, and the sum of the two plays presented in this way makes something quite special.

HOME, Manchester, 14 – 29 Sept.

Photo by Helen Murray

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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