I have always been a little bit in love with Shakespeare. It started with Leo in Romeo & Juliet, Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing and Gwenyth Paltrow in the memorable Shakespeare in Love. I specifically picked high school English subjects to take extra Shakespeare classes and felt a superior satisfaction in being able to recognise Shakespeare references in modern culture (Lion King, anyone?). But I do have a confession to make: despite all of this, I had never seen Shakespeare in live theatre... until now.
The original Globe is set up in a way that allowed for all walks of life to see the show without unnecessary mingling between the hoi polloi and the upper classes. Tickets at our local adaptation were sold accordingly - if you bought a groundlings ticket, you get to pick your favourite patch of floor at the front of the theatre with perhaps the best view, however, sitting was not allowed for OH&S reasons (an issue I suspect was not a focus in Shakespeare's day). All other tickets were seated with varying degrees of space and vantage. I suspect for most of us, the authentic experience would have been to stand as peasants on the ground exposed to the elements as well as spray of body juices, but then again, I would argue that theatre going Londoners would have never had to deal with standing under the Australian sun for two hours (and so I chose to pay a bit more for a shady seat up in the stands).
I was initially a little uncertain about our choice of Othello (or rather, the only showing we could make work on our trip) as I thought the comedies might have been better options compared to the story of a man so overcome with rage and jealousy that he is driven to kill his own wife. I needn't have worried - the enjoyment was instant from the minute the nervous and easily manipulated Roderigo runs in looking for someone to console him over his unrequited crush. The Pop-Up Globe concept was first realised in Auckland and this performance was peppered with cultural references from our next door neighbour - including the occasional exchange in Maori and a moment very reminiscence of the Haka.
Each of the characters were masterfully executed by the cast, but none so much as Iago played by Haakon Smestad. I always saw Iago as a bit of a kill-joy, Littlefinger (forgive the Game of Thrones reference) type character who operated primarily in the shadows. In contrast, Smestad's Iago is imposing, charismatic and self-assured - he exchanges banter with the audience, charms the ladies and pokes fun at his buddies. He is almost likeable, if not for his penchant to cause chaos, destruction and generally ruin everyone's lives. Iago ties the performance together - he is everyone's confidante (Othello's faithful soldier, Cassio's brother-in-arms, Roderigo's no-nonsense friend) - the master manipulator who slowly pulls his puppets inexorably towards their ultimate, untimely fates.
The scenes that follow are full of violence and blood - and by blood I mean Baz Luhrmann style spraying of red (cleaning the stage afterwards must be a pain). Be warned, the peasants at the front are in the firing line, the program says it washes out.
Melbourne will be playing host to Shakespeare in a full-scale replica of the Globe Theatre at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl for one more week - do yourself a favour and go see it before it all comes down!
Can't get enough? Also playing: As You Like It Much Ado About Nothing