State Theatre’s Othello echoes current conflicts

Nov 19, 2014
Ashton Malcolm and Elena Carapetis in Othello. Photo: Shane Reid

Ashton Malcolm and Elena Carapetis in Othello. Photo: Shane Reid

I dragged my 16-year-old son along to the Adelaide Festival Centre last night with the promise of cultural enrichment in the form of food and theatre. I didn’t mention that the production was a play by William Shakespeare until his feet were firmly inside the doors to the Dunstan Playhouse.

Before the show started, we sat in the foyer overlooking the new footbridge to Adelaide Oval, browsing the program. He commented that he had studied Romeo and Juliet at school.

I quickly read the play’s synopsis to him, revealing the plot of the famous tragedy about Othello – “The Moor of Venice” – the anti-hero and army general whose downfall is brought about by trickery and deception…

As Othello leads a military operation to defend Cyprus from the Turks, it is his personal life that is sabotaged. Enraged by Othello’s promotion of a younger and less experienced soldier, his ensign Iago persuades Othello that his wife Desdemona is having an affair, setting the engine of rage and jealousy in motion.

At the helm of State Theatre Company’s adrenaline-fuelled take on Othello is director Nescha Jelk, who has made her main-stage debut with this production.


The Playhouse stage is covered with sand to create a contemporary war-zone setting that echoes current global conflicts. Jelk says that her decision to cast Palestinian-born Hazem Shammas as Othello acknowledges “the current climate of fear and uncertainty about ‘the other’ in Australia today and brings our Othello into a modern context”.

It also gives Adelaideans a chance to see “an actor of Hazem’s rare skill and ability scale the mountain of Othello”.

Playing opposite Shammas is Renato Musolino as the destructive Iago – the pair was last cast together as the Dromio twins in 2013’s The Comedy of Errors.

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Playing Desdemona, Ashton Malcolm makes her State Theatre Company debut, adding to the modern edge of the production and bringing a real sense of playfulness to the role. Her voice has an interesting quality.

Though the text seems, for the most part, true to Shakespeare’s original, it is smattered with modern language which adds to the production’s authenticity. The lighting by Geoff Cobham is stunning, as are the sets and sound.

My son was impressed by the fighting scenes and had heard of Duncan Maxwell, the fight choreographer.

On the way home, I still had some convincing to do, so I mentioned how the themes of racism, war, love, jealousy and domestic violence are as relevant today as they were when Shakespeare wrote the play in 1603.

“It’s a drama,” he said.

I think he liked it.

Othello is the final production of the State Theatre Company’s 2014 season and will be performed at the Dunstan Playhouse until November 30.  


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