OthelloMacbeth, a condensed staging of two of Shakespeare’s most famous (and brutal) plays, is at Lyric Hammersmith until 3 November. Here are some reasons to go along…
In a brave move, director Jude Christian has condensed two of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies into one evening, cutting Othello and Macbeth down so that they each occupy half the show. Presenting the plays side by side in this way invites comparisons between the two, as does using the same cast for both. This feels like a bold, fresh way of examining some of Shakespeare’s themes – particularly power, gender, destructive ambition and political paranoia.
A metal backdrop gives Othello a severe, clinical feel, and the silver sheet reverberates jarringly and threateningly when pounded by the eponymous anti-hero in a sudden fit of anger. The wall ratchets up at the end of the first half, revealing a gloomy landscape dotted with striking objects like a tree, a water tank and some sparse furniture – setting a new, brooding tone as Othello becomes Macbeth.
This nine-strong cast give Shakespeare’s language a refreshingly colloquial, urgent feel, and the actors slip seamlessly into their new roles as one play ends and another begins. Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca (played by Kirsten Foster, Melissa Johns and Kezrena James) are patronised and mistreated in Othello. In one of the most hair-raisingly powerful moments of the evening, the three women vengefully don military camouflage amid the carnage of the play’s final moments, to be resurrected as the ‘weird sisters’ of Macbeth…
A haunting, a capella version of Anjana Vasan’s 2017 song ‘Oh Sister’ weaves through the action, sung in harmony by three of the women on stage – its 21st-century lyrics emphasising the weary timelessness of the gender politics examined in this production. Later, as the witches of Macbeth work their manipulations, they stand on a platform high above the action, running their hands along an arrangement of taut metal strings to create an eerie, animalistic groaning sound.