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Friday, February 27, 2009


(Pic: Farai Gwaze as Othello with Josette Eales as Desdemona)

Farai Gwaze - a new star blazes onto the Durban theatre environment! (Review by Caroline Smart)

Presented by Think Theatre in association with the Playhouse Company, Othello is this year’s full-on Shakespearean production geared mainly for secondary school learners as producer Margie Coppen and director Clare Mortimer aim to ignite their imaginations as they introduce them to the dramatic works of William Shakespeare.

Othello is presented in my favourite theatre space, the Drama. The venue is compact enough to create an accessible relationship between actors and audiences while large enough to allow for the full power of the visual (sets and costumes) and technological (lighting and sound) aspects that make for exciting theatre.

Well-staged, Othello is undeniably exciting. Clare Mortimer and Bryan Hiles’s effective set provides a striking background of draping, scaffolding and ropes on which to unfold Shakespeare’s time-honoured tale where jealousy overrides all else, destroying in its wake the finer values of trust and loyalty.

Othello is a general in the Venetian army - a proud and commanding man of action whose principles and sense of right and wrong become submerged as he confronts an emotion hitherto unknown to him, that of jealousy. He is a Moor, a black man, so the issues of racism can be highlighted for young audiences who have grown up in an enlightened democratic South Africa and need to be reminded of the iniquities of the past.

The production is well-directed to highlight the machinations of Iago as he charts his dastardly revenge. The reaction from the learners around me was audible as they grasped each step of his vengeful plan.

In the roles of Othello and Iago are Farai Gwaze and Ian Ewok Robinson and their scenes together are very strong. Bitterly resentful of Othello, who has promoted the younger Casio above him, Iago applies relentless pressure until Othello cracks.

While the latter has established himself as an intelligent and focused performer, Farai Gwaze is still in his honours year at UKZN and makes his professional debut in this production. With his imposing stature and deep resonant voice, he considerably impresses in this complex role which, if not handled carefully, can slide into melodrama.

Our sympathies need to stay with Othello, despite the fact that he has been manipulated into murdering his wife, and this Farai achieves with distinction. From the second last night’s audience heard that distinctive voice, he had them in his hand. There is no doubt that a new star has blazed onto the Durban theatre environment.

As his tender youthful wife, Josette Eales also impresses as Desdemona – her spirited and loving nature crushed by Iago’s Machiavellian scheming. She is also the only cast member whose dialogue is consistently and clearly audible, even when she’s dying!

Good performances all round come from this cast which represents the cream of Durban’s acting talent. Many of them are academic achievers so their interpretation of the roles and the text is logical and easily understood by those unfamiliar to Shakespearean language.

Marc Kay is a suave perfectly-groomed Casio, Darren King a delightful doddery Brabantio, Clare Mortimer as Iago’s forthright wife, Emilia, and Karen Logan as the coquettish Bianca. Michael Gritten (Duke of Venice), Loyiso MacDonald (understudying Othello), Clinton Small (understudying Iago) and Rowan Bartlett (Montano) provide solid support as the story accelerates to its tragic end. There is much humour where appropriate mainly provided by Adam DorĂ© as the hapless lovelorn Roderigo and Sean de Klerk in his role as the clown.

Supported by Damelin and BASA, Othello runs in the Playhouse Drama until March 24 with performances at 09h00 and 12h00 daily (Mondays to Fridays inclusive). The next public performance will be on March 6 at 19h00. Tickets R35 for learners, students, pensioners (R50 for adults attending the public performances). School bookings are through Margie Coppen on 083 251 9412. Bookings for the public through Computicket or Playhouse Box Office on 031 369 9540 or 031 369 9596.

Othello will also play in the Hilton College Theatre from March 24 to 31. Extra evening performances of the play will be given to accommodate private schools, both in Durban and Hilton. For further details about these, and the production’s provincial tour, contact producer Margie Coppen on 083 251 9412. – Caroline Smart