Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Review: 'Othello' and 'Much Ado About Nothing', So it Goes..., Etcetera Theatre, 24th February 2012

I’m a massive fan of cheap, charming, sketchy looking venues. Being skint as anything, It's always nice to find a dingy little pub theatre or an exciting venue at the end of a dodgy alleyway. The Etcetera Theatre ticks all these boxes. Situated above the busy Oxford Arms a stone’s throw from Camden Town tube station, the entrance to the theatre is tucked at the back of the pub between the Gents and the Ladies. Entering the theatre, a chirpy gentlemen who constituted the front of house staff encourages theatre goers to grab a drink to take inside and handed me a raffle ticket which would allow me to return upstairs after the interval. Mood established, I took my seat in the tiny theatre upstairs and awaited with anticipation ‘So it goes…’ somewhat unusually paired double-bill of Much Ado and Othello.
Othello was, in the most polite terms possible, a car crash. The ‘Blood Brothers’ style opening of a wordless enactment of Desdemona’s murder was unoriginal, condescending and pretentious. One could almost mistake the thudding of the pub music below for the sound of a death knell. Philip Nightingale’s Iago maintained a stock evil smile throughout, demonstrating none of Shakespeare’s delicious psychopathic  and manipulative charm. Perhaps most exasperatingly was director Douglas Baker’s decision to cut the play’s original ending, the devastating shock revelation of Iago’s devilish scheming was apparently not deemed an important enough element of the text for this production.  Forced to highlight a favourable element of this performance, the stage fighting between Cassio (Fergal Phillips) and Roderigo (David Bevan) was sharply choreographed; though the need for swords in the first place was questionable.
It was difficult to choose whether to use the raffle tickets which had initially held such promise, or to pass them on to an enemy bearing one of Iago’s ‘evil grins’. We stayed, and that was a good choice. Director Zoe Thomas Webb’s ‘Much Ado’ demonstrated none of the self-indulgent hallmarks of its predecessor, and the actors bought an energy and vitality which had previously been lacking. Eva Lea was a perfectly adequate Beatrice, though I would have loved to have seen Amy Butterworth in the role, who instead played a gutsy and hilarious Margaret. Similarly, the outlandish femme fatale incarnation of Don John was a little distracting for a character not nearly so fleshed out as others within the play. Though admittedly this Much Ado was lively and enjoyable. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the play came in the final scene in an adlibbed apology to Don Pedro (Harry Anton) from Benedick (Richard Popple) over a malfunctioning electric candle. This provoked all round corpsing, which, though perhaps unforgiveable in a professional venue, was less a negative and more an unprecedented exposure of a pleasant synergy between a hard-working cast.