“Richard Twyman’s Othello breaks new ground by demonstrating how disturbingly relevant and profound the play is to our times. It shows us the political, social, cultural and religious fault lines that we are contending with today and offers a searing critique of xenophobia and patriarchy, empire and privilege”.
Abdul-Rehman Malik, Journalist and Educator.
The Guardian, Lyn Gardner
“So much ado, so much stress, so much passion and repetition about a handkerchief,” lamented Thomas Rymer in his 1693 essay A Short View of Tragedy, demanding to know “how it entered into our Poet’s head to make a tragedy of this trifle”. Director Richard Twyman resoundingly answers the question with this thrilling production in which Othello is a Muslim living in the deeply conservative, racist and misogynistic Venetian state.
He wears a cross – he has to in order to survive and advance – but he has had to suppress part of himself. He ties the handkerchief, his link to his past, around his beloved Desdemona’s wrist as they whisper the words of an Islamic wedding ceremony.
Twyman not only makes a very good case for this play at this particular time, but he also does it with a cast who relish the language and negotiate the galloping storytelling with ease. Newcomers Abraham Popoola and Norah Lopez Holden are outstanding as the doomed lovers: she as open and joyful as a bubbling brook; he only able to express his true nature under cover of darkness in the marriage bed.
As Iago, Mark Lockyer is horribly good, the chatty, reasonable chap down the golf club, whose alternative facts seem so very plausible.
Twyman plays with light and darkness, appearance and reality, in an evening in which tragedy springs from the blindness of a state run by sleek-suited, microphone- hugging men confident about who is one of us, and who isn’t. “O, these men, these men!” cries Desdemona. You can’t help but weep with her.”
The Observer, Susannah Clapp
“Richard Twyman is not resident at the Tobacco Factory. Yet his marvellous production of Othello – one of the best I have seen of this hard-to-love play – belongs to that theatre’s distinctive tradition. Spare but incisive. Cutting to the quick. It does not impose: it unlocks.
Twyman’s particular interpretation is persuasive and subtly worked out. Othello is a Muslim in a Christian country: the evening opens with him rolling up his prayer mat to the sound of Arabic music, then putting on a crucifix. When he and Desdemona dance, they undulate. At one point Georgia Lowe’s design replaces fluorescent bars with a Moorish lamp. From the beginning there is a sense of hope about to be repressed.
Yet as fundamental to the evening’s success is something less conceptual. It is the sheer force of feeling – of sexual engagement and affection – that fuels the action. How invigorating to have at the centre two gifted actors who graduated from Rada only last year. Norah Lopez Holden (trainers, dungarees) looks childlike and argues like the lawyer you would want to have. Forensic, unbudgeable, she drains the part of victimhood. Abraham Popoola’s Othello powers across the stage. He looks unstoppable. Quelling disputes as he towers above his men, scooping Desdemona up in his arms, or carrying her on his back like the lightest of rucksacks. Jealousy infects him like a fever: his movements become more angular, his eyes narrow, he plays obsessively with a bandage.
Mark Lockyer’s excellent, sardonic Iago also finds himself occasionally choked by grief as well as fury: he plays the villain like a magician trying to conjure malignant spells. Brian Lonsdale’s Rodrigo spins a comic, neck-twitching turn out of his gawky crush. As Emilia, Katy Stephens draws the eye in every scene: utterly intense, utterly at ease. I want to see her in every great Shakespearean role.
It is a tribute to the even power of this cast to say that they made me want to argue with Shakespeare’s title and ending. There are Desdemona and Emilia dead at our feet. Emilia has made her great analysis of male and female relations. And Othello stands over them to say that it is all about him. Really?”