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The Theatreguide.London Review

othellomacbeth
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre   Autumn 2018

The director Jude Christian wants you to see more of the women characters in the plays Othello and Macbeth. 

So she has cut out much of what the male characters do and say, reallocated a few of their speeches to the women and has Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca from Othello wander about the stage distracting the audience throughout the performance of Macbeth. 

And we shouldn’t forget Lady Macbeth singing about wearing her heart 'like a suicide vest'. 

othellomacbeth is a weird experience, and if you didn’t already know the plays you would be very puzzled by it. In fact even if you did know the plays you would be puzzled. 

Why cobble them together? Apart from suggesting that in the afterlife women abused in one play are doomed to forever watch men dash about in other plays, there seems to be little purpose. 

Othello is the most radically filleted. Gone is the racism that may be shaping Othello’s behaviour. Gone is anything that might help us understand the motivation of Iago and Othello. 

It is as if the men just get up one morning and go on a killing spree. And given everything is done at such a hectic pace there is barely any time to show what kind of relationship Othello is in with Desdemona before he is slamming her hard against the metal backdrop. 

But then nothing violent is done by half measures. Iago shoots Emilia four times. Macbeth seems to be stabbing, strangling or shooting people in every scene. Perhaps befuddled by all the killing he finally arrives on stage wearing some ancient armour and carrying a sword to slay his last victims. 

The male characters are all two dimensional. But the women are not much better. 

Instead of Lady Macbeth being the usual strong motivating voice in the play, she is little more that her husband's early passive sidekick, who then withdraws to a rocking chair where for the rest of the play she nurses a bundle as if it is a baby. 

As for the late scenes between Emilia and Desdemona that are usually so unsettling and moving depictions of women talking about their puzzlement at the behaviour of men, they are whipped through with unshaded haste. And among the cuts are Desdemona’s final words. 

othellomacbeth is a misguided mess, and at a time when so much is being said about the way powerful men abuse women it is a missed opportunity to show some of Shakespeare’s powerful depictions of gender relations.

Keith Mckenna

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Review -  othellomacbeth - Lyric Hammersmith Theatre 2018