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Icarus Theatre Collective

Othello

National Tour
12 September 2013 - May 2014

A co-production with King's Theatre, Southsea

Othello


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Othello

By William Shakespeare

A tempestuous journey from scandal and intrigue to lust and vengeance.

For information about our Othello workshops, click here.

The Scotsman
four stars The Public Review
four stars
Virtual Shropshire
four stars Remote Goat

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Reviews

 

Public Reviews, Barsley Civic - Fiona Hannon

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s best known plays and is performed regularly. It is a timeless story of betrayal and deception, of jealously and manipulation, where the action moves from sophisticated Venice to the heat of the sun in military Cyprus. Othello (Gary Stoner), a powerful military leader, has been sent from Venice to Cyprus to fight against the Turks, taking with him his new young wife Desdemona (Holly Piper). Ambitious Iago (David Martin), a soldier serving Othello, has been overlooked for promotion and is bent on revenge

Icarus Theatre Collective premiered this production at the Kings Theatre, Southsea in September 2013 where it was based on an earlier co-production with Original Theatre and South Hill Park Arts Centre. Last night’s well attended performance was in the Assembly Room of Barnsley’s Civic Theatre, which re-opened to the public in 2009 and is an excellent example of how a historic municipal building can be renovated to create a bright, versatile, contemporary arts space.

The single most striking aspect of this production is Director Max Lewendel’s bold decision to integrate music throughout the performance as an outlet for the musicality of Shakespeare’s words. This means that his cast are not only experienced actors, but that the majority of them are also orchestra standard string players. This choice must have made casting particularly difficult.

Although the instruments are all played confidently and competently, they were often a source of distraction. It’s not easy to move cellos on and off stage unobtrusively. It also diminishes the power of an actor’s exit when he has to cross to the other side of the stage to first collect his viola before he can leave. At times it was difficult to hear the actor’s voices over the sound of the music and so, well intentioned as it was, overall, this production may have benefitted from less intrusive music.

Gary Stoner (the only actor not playing a musical instrument) is a commanding physical presence in the title role, towering above his Desdemona played by Holly Piper. The excitement of their new relationship is clear to see and Desdemona’s confusion at its sudden halt is especially wretched.

This is a huge play for only seven actors to take on, which means that several are performing more than one role. Alice Bonifacio is perhaps the most successful, moving easily between Bianca, Montano and the Duke. Ilona Kahn’s costume designs as such have had to take in to account the need for actors to be able to change roles quickly and convincingly.

Christopher Hone’s clever and inventive set was clearly designed for a touring company with little time between performances. Its ingenious multi-functional elements were moved by the cast to create curved walkways, ships and bedrooms on varying levels.

 

Ilkston Advertiser -Lynn Patrick

It isn’t among the most popular or frequently performed of Shakespeare’s plays, but Othello potentially has plenty going for it: a battle scene (with great sound effects), several fights with sword and fists, a high body count, and, famously, one of the most tragic love stories in literature.

Icarus Theatre Collective brought it to the Pomegranate for one night last week, and to all these ingredients they added live music.

The actors put across a difficult play with vigour, enthusiasm and some strong performances, even if their diction sometimes let them down. Julian Pindar was suitably dashing as doomed Cassio. Gary Stoner made a colourful, imposing Othello. David Martin’s Iago grew more convincingly evil as the evening progressed.

The eight-strong cast showed themselves to be multi-talented. Several of them sang; women played men in ensemble scenes; and six of the eight each played a stringed instrument, from violin to double bass.

A novel idea, and sometimes it blended well, but unfortunately random pieces of music mid-scene over plot-carrying dialogue can soon become a distraction, especially when clarity and audibility should be a priority.

 

Virtual Shropshire review

- Chris Eldon Lee

Icarus Theatre Company’s ‘Othello’ is a clear, concise and user-friendly edit of Shakespeare’s original….presented with pace, authority and lashings of music. 

I don’t recall a string sextet in The Bard’s text, but actually it all meshed together rather well. The characters came and went carrying their instruments. And with a little imagination, the bows became swords and the violins almost resembled man bags.

At first it seemed slightly odd – and there were moments of excess -  but having Shakespearean characters underscoring their own soliloquies brought additional colour and texture to the words.

The memorable melodies bridged the gaps in the text and the pizzicato playing added impish humour to the scheming. It left me wondering whether all 16th century  Venetians carried violins….which might just explain Vivaldi’s subsequent success.

Gary Stoner’s Othello has the power of an oak (and a slight woodeness in his quiet passages). Once roused, though, he flares like a forest fire and his bare chest and dreadlocks (it had to happen) are very striking as he stalks the stage.

David Martin played his ancient, Iago, as a ‘Mister Reasonable’ – with a very short agenda. The manipulation of Othello was there for all to see, though he might have allowed himself to make more of his audience confidentials.

Holly Piper’s Desdemona was quite a modern miss – with the head movements of a truculent teenager. Director Max Lewendel has cleverly juxtaposed her boudoir scenes with the attack on Cassio which makes the treachery all the more sinister and her preparation of her own death bed all the more melancholy.

Indeed the production – with a cast of just eight – was craftily plotted and satisfying executed. Sheets and slats created ships, salons and senate houses with minimal fuss and complete conviction. And by paring away the extremities of the play, the fatal handkerchief that seals Desdemona’s demise was clearly exposed as exhibit A.

This really was a polished production that was satisfying to watch and charming to listen to and provided a very valuable contribution to Theatre Severn’s drama programme.

 

StarStarStarStar Pride comes before a downfall

- Tim Mottershead

A pleasingly sizeable crowd turned up at Buxton Opera House on a cold dour night to see Icarus Theatre’s seven-strong cast deliver an intriguing version of Shakespeare’s Othello. The play is set against the background of Venetian fears of invasion by the Turkish army, and their concerns over the strategically important outpost of the island of Cyprus, which indeed is invaded during the course of the action. The key ingredients which ultimately lead to tragedy (including a liberal dose of coincidence) are introduced early on. When Roderigo becomes jealous on learning that Desdemona has eloped with Othello, Iago seizes the opportunity to use Roderigo as an instrument of revenge against Othello: Roderigo is despatched to complain to Desdemona’s father, whilst Iago scuttles off to ‘warn’ Othello of the impending trouble (of his own design). Roderigo received a rather camp portrayal from David Sayers, who hit his stride much more effectively later on in an accomplished depiction of Lodovico.


Given that Iago is the central antagonist, it seemed a pity that his reasons for putting himself against Othello (principally missing out on a promotion in favour of the younger less experienced Cassio) were given insufficient emphasis. Nevertheless David Martin gave a perfectly nuanced performance of the outwardly respectable, yet ambitious and inwardly scheming Iago. In fact it was in large part due to the credibility of his portrayal (unwittingly aided and abetted by his wife Emilia (Deborah Klayman)) which made Othello’s downfall believable: for his misplaced trust in the sly advisor he calls ‘honest Iago’ (even as he seeks to ensnare him in a fabricated cuckoldry) which puts above his own instincts and feelings - towards Cassio (Julian Pindar), and more particularly his new bride Desdemona (Holly Piper) - ultimately allowing his pride to outweigh any other considerations.


In an unusual take, almost the entire cast played stringed instruments throughout the production...except Othello - presumably to underline the fact he was an 'outsider'. Whilst this was a musically impressive feat in itself, and didn’t necessarily detract from the unfolding plot, it did seem an overly heavy-handed piece of symbolism, and did become something of an irritating affectation over time. In any case this was unnecessary as Gary Stoner not only brought the requisite gravitas to his Othello, but provided a physically commanding portrayal as well, not least in the play’s genuinely moving conclusion.


The production’s elegantly constructed set effortlessly transformed itself into the various scenarios, including that of a ship. The Icarus tour of Othello directed by Max Lewendel (in tandem with Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler) continues over the coming weeks and months. 

 

Ink Pellet - Othello Review by Peter King

Shakespeare’s tale of black vengeance was given a musical twist in this strings and ropes production by the Icarus Theatre Collective – and the players fiddled as Othello burned.

A breathtaking nautical set decked out with white boards and ever-burning lights in nets of hempen tackle provided a fitting platform for Iago (David Martin) to pull the strings of the muscular moor (Gary Stoner) as his downward spiral into the storms of jealousy was played out.

In a small cast Alice Bonifacio (Bianca, Montano and the Duke) was commanding, and David Sayers (Roderigo and Lodovico) demonstrated the versatility needed to step into contrasting shoes.

Intelligent blocking and lighting combined with imaginative touches, such as the split screen effect produced by the splicing of the fight between Roderigo and Cassio and the melodic Desdemona (Holly Piper) settling into her bed of death.

There was music for every emotion, but it was tempting to cry, ‘Put up your violins!’ – and the quartet was at its best when tucked away playing mood music in an unobtrusive corner.

In the first half much of the exposition was lost, including the vulgarity of ‘honest Iago’ and the racial abuse hurled at the ‘noble moor’ – and it seemed that the cutting had been done not wisely but too well.

However, the true horror and pity shone through in the final acts when the music began to fade and the magic of the poetry triumphed as the text was allowed to speak for itself.

 

StarStarStarStarPublic Reviews

- Amy Taylor

Venetian tragedy, racial tension and deadly ambition lie at the heart of Max Lewendel’s revival of his 2009 production of Othello. A co-production with Icarus Theatre Collective and Kings Theatre, Southsea, this production brings music, energy and unity to this infamous and controversial tragedy.

Written in the early 16th century, Shakespeare’s classic tragedy is set in Venice against the backdrop of the Turkish invasion at the time and follows the evil Iago (David Martin) as he plots the downfall of his ensign, Othello (Gary Stoner), a general in the Venetian army, through a tangled web of lies and deceit that eventually leads to betrayal and tragedy.

Icarus Theatre Collective’s revival of their 2009 adaptation of Shakespeare’s infamous tragedy brings together the rich themes of war, race, jealous, hatred, deception and murder to create an almost timeless play chronicling the extremes of human ambition. Although named after the eponymous “Moor of Venice”, Shakespeare’s focus, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not on Othello, but on the jealous and devious Iago. Throughout the piece Iago, using lies, deception and manipulation uses Othello and others throughout the play to plant the seeds of jealousy and doubt that lead to the piece’s bloody and tragic ending.

And herein lies the true message of this play; manipulation, weakness, jealousy and perhaps most importantly, ambition. Iago is angry with Othello for promoting the young Cassio (Julian Pindar) over him, and in seeking his revenge he chooses to play on Othello’s weaknesses to get what he wants. However, the weaknesses he exploits are varied and damning; the inherent racism for a man of Othello’s creed and powerful standing in society, his secret marriage to Desdemona (Holly Piper) and perhaps most importantly of all, his jealousy.  

While the story of Othello is very well-known, Lewendel manages to bring something fresh and unforgettable to the piece by using the skills of a group of highly talented actors who also play a selection of string instruments with ease, style and effortless elegance. Although the scenes with the many violins and cellos played by the cast can become a little repetitive, the music transforms and brings Shakespeare’s language to a new level, making the play more engaging, more exciting and more involving than before.  Additionally, unlike the traditional portrayal of Desdemona and the other female characters, Piper, along with her contemporaries Deborah Klayman as Emilia and Alice Bonifacio as Bianca, portray their roles with dignity and strength and without the traditional “wetness” of Shakespeare’s heroines. An accomplished and impressive version of Othello, Icarus Theatre Collective are a company to watch in 2014.

...and here is a glowing review for one of our great workshops, please click here for further details.

We were delighted that a touring theatre company took time out of their performance schedule at the Brunton Theatre, to come to Loretto on Wednesday. They worked with second to sixth form on Shakespeare’s audience, verse and etiquette. We had great fun playing around with insults, learning how to bow correctly and discovering that audience noise was expected at every performance!


To help with one of their GCSE texts, the fifth form had the chance to interview Iago, a character in Othello described as ‘the ultimate villain’. To begin with, pupils displayed typical Lorettonian politeness, but it wasn’t long before Iago’s disturbed mind forced them into interrogating Iago Taggart-style, demanding why he wanted to ruin Othello’s life. 

 

Othello at the Kings Theatre,’Jealousy, Death, and Music’ - Team Locals

 

Icarus Theatre Collective’s performance of Othello opens as it means to go on – with live music played by the actors on violins and cellos and live singing. Adding both originality and atmosphere to a well-known tale, it is largely successful though arguably the most tense, powerful scenes are played out on the back drop of silence when the music stops, such as the final scene of Act 1.

The set changes before your eyes offering the biggest ‘wow factor’ during the storm scene in Act 1 as the set magically transforms into a ship. The live music throughout provides tension and is a real achievement for the actors who juggle both playing and carrying instruments alongside believably, in most cases, reciting Shakespeare.

Othello played by Gary Stoner captivates from his first scene before he says a word, casting a powerful image of the Moor turned general. As the plot develops his scenes of intense rage and jealousy are transfixing, which are a welcome break from the somewhat bland initial scenes with Desdemona.

The second act felt as though all the cast were growing in confidence and energy with Desdemona (Holly Piper), Emelia (Deborah Klayman) and especially Iago bringing more commitment and emotion to their roles. Iago, played by David Martin, especially seemed to revel more in his villainy without throwing away lines as was arguably the case in the first act.

Overall it’s a fairly original interpretation of Othello, with the live music adding a unique dimension. It’s not the RSC and it would be unrealistic to expect such, and there are occasional faults in terms of too much going on at once and some weaker roles but this is a solid performance and definitely worth seeing, especially for those blood curdling scenes of anguish by the leading man himself.

 

Interviews

 

 

The lovely ladies of the cast sat down with The Public Reviews earlier in the month...

 

Established in 2004, and lauded as one of the most fearless and dynamic theatre companies in the UK, Icarus Theatre Collective’s reputation for punchy and vibrant productions of contemporary and classic theatre continues to grow. Their twin productions of Othello and Hedda Gabler – which will run in rep until the middle of 2014 – will be their 10th anniversary tour. TPR caught up with Alice Bonifacio, Holly Piper and Deborah Klayman – the three female members of the cast – to find out what it is that makes this production different, and whether or not there is any truth in the numerous articles published recently on the dearth of strong roles for women in the classical cannon.

There have been numerous productions of Othello in the past, and currently a highly successful one at the National Theatre. What makes Icarus’ version different?

Alice: I suppose the most obvious difference is that this production has integral music: everyone in the cast is a musician and we have four violins, a viola and two cellos on stage. There is a particular lyricism to Othello, so the strings mesh well with the musicality of the language.

Holly: Also, we all get to fight! Usually the female characters don’t get to do the sword fighting, but that isn’t the case in this production, and we have a brilliant fight director (Ronin Traynor) so hopefully the audience will find those moments really exciting.

There has been much discussion in the press recently about female roles in classical plays. Do you feel Shakespeare sold women short?

Deborah: Not at all. I think what intrigued the three of us at the beginning of the process was Director Max Lewendel’s vision of a modern Othello in a period setting, a slightly parallel world where women had positions of power and authority.

H: All of us play strong women: my feeling about Desdemona is that although she is young and inexperienced she has incredible strength. She defies her father and marries Othello in spite of her duty – that would have been quite something when it was written.

A: I’m playing the Duke, and we certainly discussed whether or not being a woman would have made it difficult for her to rise to that position. This has fed into the role and scenes but it is not a decision that feels strange. I also feel my character has more empathy with Othello because she has also overcome prejudice.

D: The reality is that Shakespeare wasn’t writing for women – there were no actresses in his day – so the fact that his female characters are so well observed and astutely drawn is frankly amazing.

H: There is also a lovely, truthful friendship between my character Desdemona and Emilia, who Deborah plays. They talk very honestly about their relationships, often in a very modern way, especially when they are alone.

D: Particularly Emilia, who never minces her words even when she’s in the presence of men!

But given how Othello ends it does seem like the female characters get a raw deal.

A: Well, my characters all live till the end so I come off better than a lot of the others in the cast, male and female!

D: The fact is that Othello is a tragedy – it doesn’t really end well for anyone!

A: Exactly. All three of us definitely get accused of being ‘whores’ at some point in the play, which isn’t particularly positive, but it is also clear to the audience that we aren’t.

H: The play is about relationships, and in particular jealousy and betrayal, so Othello and Desdemona were never going to walk off into the sunset. That said, Desdemona dies a guiltless death, whereas Othello is destroyed by what he has done, so it’s worse for him in a way. When you see Gary Stoner in that final scene you’ll see what I mean.

Othello - Icarus Theatre

 

D: All three women are deeply in love, and that blinds each of them to their other half’s faults. Emilia’s first mistake was definitely falling for Iago, and it ultimately destroys her, but unfortunately that relationship is as relevant now as it ever was. I love playing her because she is intelligent and feisty, yet hopelessly in love with her husband. David Martin (Iago) and I spent a lot of time finding ways to make their relationship feel real.

A: That’s definitely true for Bianca too, Cassio treats her poorly but she chooses to stay with him, no one makes her. She’s also not stupid, and has no difficulty sticking up for herself.

D: What I love about our cast is that all of the male actors feel the same way as we do – that the women are vitally important and the strength of their relationships with the male characters are fundamental to the storytelling.

H: Absolutely. The men are all losing their minds because of the women in the play: Roderigo is drawn into Iago’s web because of his love for Desdemona, while Brabantio is destroyed by her betrayal when she marries Othello.

D: Also, one of the reasons Iago gives for targeting Othello is the possibility that he slept with Emilia behind his back. That accusation is very significant. That’s why the “green eyed monster” is referred to so much: jealousy and betrayal are huge themes in the play.

A: But it’s also quite funny at points! David Sayers’ Roderigo is hilarious, and the scene where we all get Julian Pindar (Cassio) drunk will hopefully get a few laughs too.

 

 

 

 

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