The Scullions are a Bath-based theatre company composed of alumni of and current students at Bath Spa University. Their focus is on the Shakespearean oeuvre and this is the company’s third production after “Hal and Falstaff” and “Henry V”. Last night they brought their World War II-flavoured production of “Othello” to the Shoebox Theatre.
Before I say anything else I must congratulate Harriet Dearing who had to step in at the last moment as lighting and sound technician when the original technician had to drop out at short-notice due to illness. She did a bang-up job in the circumstances (although she looked in need of a stiff drink in the aftermath).
As for the production, I admired the minimalism of the staging. For the most part there was little more than a stout table and a few chairs on set, the table doubling as the bed at the play’s climax. The music of Vera Lynn and Glen Miller permeated the action. Costumes, in the most part, were regimental khaki or simple early 1940’s frocks.
The starkness and simplicity of the staging helps the audience focus on the verse and the relationships within the play. Slithering amongst the rest of the characters is Iago. While this is very much ‘The Tragedy of Othello’ it is his ‘friend’ and ensign, ‘honest’ Iago who massages the action towards its tragic conclusion by dripping poison in the characters’ ears and manipulating them through their insecurities and hubris.
Nicky Cooper bears the twin burdens of directing the play and playing Iago and acquits himself well in both roles. His Iago is quieter and more reticent than some interpretations of the role, but this only serves to accentuate the dexterity and sober ingenuity of his machination.
This in turn gives the necessary room for Njeko Katebe to give an assured and powerful performance as Othello. He makes the Moor’s slow descent from cock-sure hero to raving jealous malcontent a nuanced and heart-breaking journey.
This is only emphasised by Taylor Bond’s playing of the blithe yet trusting Desdemona. We watch, helpless, as she walks into the trap set for her and her performance when she realises her fate at her husband’s hands and tries to plea reason with him is truly harrowing.
There are also excellent turns from Tom Hogan as the Boy’s Own hero Cassio, Maike Pijnappel as Iago’s gulled wife Emilia, Ghero Tanarella Jr as the feckless Roderigo, Sam Rugman as the blustering Brabantio and Cat Richardson as the coquettish Bianca.
In just over two hours and with just eight cast members The Scullions present a pared-back, confident and affecting production Othello.
Hopefully this talented young company will go on to enrich other Shakespeare texts with their own idiosyncratic take on the Bard’s work. And, more hopefully still, they will return to the Shoebox Theatre where intimate and confessional productions like this one have the chance to thrive.