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Friday, June 14, 2024

Theatre review: Othello has never felt quite so topical

A 400 year old play has never felt quite so topical. From an opening peal of laughter, to a closing note of disbelief, Bob Frazer’s Othello is as much a musical map, as it is a trajectory of tragedy.

Moving the backdrop of this Othello to the US civil war, the play’s themes of race, trust, and betrayal ricochet off Amir Ofek’s columned set, suggesting a timeless quality that brings today’s headlines into focus. The parallels between what is currently happening in America and Shakespeare’s most well-thought tragedy are stark. Iago, a jealous underling, sets out on a quest to remove his superior from his well-earned position. Manipulating the weaknesses of better men, he strives to conquer, and inadvertently lays waste to all.

Luc Roderique’s Othello is tall, stalwart, and calm. A man who can be relied upon but who does not think too glaringly upon those around him. He finds delight in his spirited yet innocent wife Desdemona, played with a balance of grace and presence by Kayla Deorksen.

It all comes undone though at the grinning paws of Kayvon Kelly’s Iago who drives the show like a weak-wristed shepherd flagellating his flock. Kelly plays Iago like a greasy middle-manager who harbours a racist resentment of his superior. His snake-like smiles and literal back-stabbing provide a remarkable achievement in a role that is less Machiavelli and more Office Space psycho.

This is a production that sings in all directions. The staging is stunning, with John Webber’s lighting design offering a simple colour palette that is as unobtrusive as it is striking. The scenic design by Amir Ofek is visibly Greek, and underscores its relevancy to the modern day. Civil war era folk songs are flawlessly inserted into a world where a wheedling a Iago can manipulate the goodness of the men around him for his own tortured purposes.

This Othello is relevant, timeless, and beautiful. See it.

Othello by William Shakespeare. Directed by Bob Frazer. A Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production. On stage at Vanier Park in Vancouver until September 24. Visit for tickets and information.

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