Othello Unleashes Madness at the Freewill Shakespeare Festival

From top to bottom: Stuart Fink, John Kirkpatrick and Nathan Cuckow. Photo Credit: Ian Jackson/Epic Photography

This year’s Freewill Shakespeare Festival opened with Othello – a tragedy telling the story of Othello and his wife Desdemona, and “honest” Iago.

A prevailing theme of Othello is madness, and how people are driven to madness by jealousy – especially Othello and Iago. Iago’s jealousy was funnelled into an obsession with revenge (causing the audience to hate him for his jealousy). John Ullyatt’s representation of Iago’s larger-than-life personality and wit simultaneously connected me to his character while his obsession with revenge repulsed me. The way that Ullyatt plays Iago allows the audience to relate to the character – with his sly wit and occasional winks to the audience in his asides.

By contrast, Othello’s jealousy was tragic to the informed audience, resulting in sympathy for him, although he is a murderer, instead of disgust. Mark Meer’s rapid progression from loving newlywed to crazed murderer was incredibly convincing. During the second act – when madness takes over Othello, it was impossible to imagine that Meer himself was not actually crazed.

Another standout actor was Chris Bullough (Roderigo) who was able to convey genuine pain and confusion at the circumstances he faced, aided by the audience’s knowledge of Iago’s plans.

A final bravo to Matthew Skopyk – the Sound Designer/Composer – the music in the play added another layer of emotionality. The backing track to Iago’s soliloquies emphasized his growing madness, but succeeded in drawing the audience into the excitement and intricacies of his plan. In other scenes, the use of a feedback-like track during Othello’s pauses drew the audience into his mind, and emphasized his confusion, frustration, and even the echoes of the conflicting information he was receiving.

Othello was another fascinating Shakespearian insight into the human condition, and is well represented by the Free Will Players.

Belinda Cornish and Mark Meer as Desdemona and Othello. Photo Credit: Ian Jackson/Epic Photography

The Freewill Shakespeare Festival runs June 30 to July 24. Plays this year are Othello and Twelfth Night. For more information: http://www.rivercityshakespeare.com/.

– Jenna Marynowski

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