Review / Bell’s ‘Othello’ exudes power and conviction

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Yalin Ozucelik, left, and Ray Chong Nee. Photo by Daniel Boud
Yalin Ozucelik, left, and Ray Chong Nee. Photo by Daniel Boud
CANBERRA’S Playhouse is Bell Shakespeare’s second-last stop on an epic 27-venue national tour of their “Othello”. 

The show is well-worn, seamless and lacks nothing in power and conviction.

Unfolding in Michael Hankin’s silent, velvet set, the production dives deep into the text’s undercurrents of racism and misogyny. From “Othello” we inherit the “green-eyed monster” and “the beast with two backs”.  The dark tone of these two phrases reflects the ugly tragedy of deception and intimate partner violence that unfolds.

The show’s direction and movement design create moments of stylisation that enhance the show’s pace and emotional pitch.

Ray Chong Nee, Elizabeth Nabben, background Huw McKinnon_ photo, Daniel Boud
Ray Chong Nee, Elizabeth Nabben, background Huw McKinnon_ photo, Daniel Boud
At times, the choreographed motion gives the audience a point of view like that of a moving camera.  Never overdone, it supports the action and stops well short of affectation.

Yalin Ozucelik plays the and arch-villain Iago as an impulsive, almost hyperactive psychopath. Iago uses his superior empathy to extract revenge for perceived slights. He  identifies each character’s weakness  that, when activated, will bring out their innate capacity for violence. For Cassio, this is alcohol and for Othello, it is jealousy.

Ray Chong Nee’s Othello has a calm gravitas in the early scenes. As a general, his professional status is high, but as a black man among the Venetians, he remains an outsider. Nee plays the slow change from a strong, self-assured man to a childish paranoid, overcome by his own emotions, with passion and admirable restraint.

Elizabeth Nabben as Desdemona and Joanna Downing as Iago’s wife, Emilia are new to Bell Shakespeare. Both gave bright, energetic and truthful interpretations.

The whole cast is cohesive throughout this tragedy and no opportunity for humour or insight is squandered.

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