“Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well,
Of one not easily jealous but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinable gum. Set you down this,
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog
And smote him thus.“
Othello, Act V Scene II
First things first: Many thanks to Jillian and the ESRC for getting tickets for us!
I missed last year’s Shakespeare in the Park – Twelfth Night by the Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT). Hence, when Othello was scheduled to have a show at Fort Canning Green this year, we jumped at it. I went to the picnic/ play with Max, Jillian, and Jillian’s friend, Chien Yong.
My first encounter with Shakespeare was when I was 12. My grandfather’s friend was a book distributor and tended to give us rejected books (usually overstocked or books with slight defects (printed upside down etc…)). One of those books was an illustrated collection of Shakespeare’s stories – Romeo & Juliet, MacBeth, Twelfth Night, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Julius Caesar among the muse’s extensive work.
As a kid, the dramatic images and carefully crafted words seemed incredibly complex, yet there was a certain kind of charm about his works. I later learnt (from my aunt) that Shakespeare’s works were generally categorised into two sections: Comedy and Tragedy. I studied Twelfth Night for my “O” Levels and to this date, it remains my favourite Shakespearean piece.
Othello, on the other hand, was probably one of the few works which never really struck me until I graduated from secondary school. It was not until a quick search on Wikipedia that I got intrigued by the story of distrust, manipulation, and power struggles.
In this interpretation, SRT modernised the environment, bringing Othello’s war between Venice and Turkey to modern ages – from the set up down to the costumes. It was also interesting to watch how characters were able to bring their roles to life despite the new, modern settings – a great balance for Shakespearean buffs and new spectators to his pieces.
Iago’s soliloquys definitely took centre stage for me (he seemed to have forgotten his lines at the start, but all was fine later). As I told Max, sometimes the antagonist gets more “screen time” in Shakespearean plays to enhance the villainy or watch as a two-faced character (like Iago) unfurl to his/ her full level of evil.
As Shakespearean plays and their adaptations/ interpretations come, this was true to its story line. Iago’s soliloquys enhancing the theme of this play – distrust, Desdomona’s desperation and despair in a hopeless fight to defend her true love for a naive and distrusting Othello, Cassio’s undying loyalty to his lord, mistaken for lust for his lord’s missus. If the storytelling brought out the theme, this performance’s characters enhanced it further.
What I felt lacking from this performance, however, was the ending. As tragic as it was, I was expecting a little more drama as Othello struggles to come to terms with his sin. Accompanying characters who seemed to just stand there as Othello stabbed himself (especially Cassio, his most loyal lieutenant) kind of made the ending a little more mellow than its anticipated glory.
Other than that, it was a great experience and performance. It’s no wonder Othello became a sold-out show when we were there, so thank goodness we had pre-booked tickets!
Shakespeare in the Park’s Othello will be running until 19 May. You can find out more about SRT or the performance here.
P/S – Looking forward to next year’s performance! Julius Caesar or The Merchant of Venice, perhaps?