Jealous minds;Set play;Reviews;Theatre

2nd April 1999 at 01:00
Othello. Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.

About to mount his first production on Stratford's main stage, director Michael Attenborough eases his apprehension with two thoughts. "First, though I've always seen the main house as a bit of a barn, it's been redesigned this season to feel more like an arena, more like one shared room for audience and performers. Second, Othello is particularly suited to that large space."

Attenborough is acutely aware of the qualities that make Shake-speare's most domestic tragedy appropriate to a large stage. "Think of the sheer scale of the language. Othello looks at his dead wife and says 'Me thinks it should be now a huge eclipse of sun and moon, and that th'affrighted globe should yawn at alteration'. That emotional and metaphorical vastness can't be played at a televisual naturalistic level I it requires a space that does justice to the depth of feeling and technical virtuosity of the language."

Attenborough also gains reassurance from the confidence his actors already have in each other. His Othello and Desde-mona, Ray Fearon and Zo Waites, played Romeo and Juliet in last year's RSC production. Iago is played by Richard McCabe, "a passionate actor with a wonderful sense of humour and a ferocious intelligence".

Attenborough sees Iago as the real protagonist of the drama. "This play is not about Othello's jealousy, but about Iago's. The man is a deeply insecure, sexual paranoic. He's not really sure if his wife has slept with Othello, but it's enough for him that other people believe it."

The production is set in an Edwardian, all male, military world. "This rough and ready male club in Cyprus catches the friction between the gleaming swords and regimental uni-forms and the canvas and crates of camp life. It also adds poign-ancy to the emotional oppression the three women endure as they are overtaken by the sheer speed at which the terror takes hold."

'Othello' opens on April 9. For bookings, tel: 01789 295623

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