IAGO_Legrand Andersen_Nicola DracoulisEmploying the characters and narrative of Shakespeare’s Othello, Western Edge Youth Arts have created a powerful piece of contemporary theatre examining misogyny in today’s society.

Though highly original in its interpretation – sword fights have been replaced with boxing matches – parallels can be clearly drawn between the Bard’s tragic tale of the Moor of Venice, and this new production.

In this play Othello (Rexson Semsi-Pelman), or the self-proclaimed “Samoan Cyclone”, is introduced as a new member of a rat infested boxing gym, where the story is set. Owned by Brabant (Oti Willoughby), who is old school in his attitudes, particularly towards his daughter Desdemona (Natalie Lucic), the gym is contextualised as a place where men fight, and women worship. Even if they can strike a punch, as seen with boxing champ Bianca (Achai Deng), women still do not appear to be taken seriously in, or out the ring.

Impressed by Othello’s strength and skill, Brabant starts organising boxing matches, and naturally the Samoan Cyclone rips through the competition. Determined to sabotage Othello’s reign in the boxing ring, and Othello’s newly formed romantic relationship with Desdemona, Iago (Legrand Andersen) starts scheming a series of devious deceptions against his rival, and against the rats, who are proving too clever for simple traps. Unfortunately, Othello’s poor judgment and his mistrust of those most loyal to him, ultimately leads to his tragic demise, much like the rats who also take Iago’s bait.

In the same bold and fearless way Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap, explores identity and personal relationships in a multicultural Australia, this performance holds a mirror up to today’s society, focusing on race and misogyny, and asking what makes a man. The realistic depiction of violence against women is confronting. And the company are to be commended for daring to go beyond what is entertaining for an audience, and really highlight the trauma associated with emotional and physical abuse.

Throughout the performance each of the characters takes centre stage, candidly sharing with the audience their inner thoughts and desires. These soliloquys provide a fascinating insight, not only into the characters, but also into the culturally diverse cast of performers, who have personalised the script with their experiences. These intimate moments are decorated with sounds effects created by the ensemble, subtle lighting states, and interpretive movements.

Iago is a unique and creative work, which ticks all the boxes. It is Shakespeare, though far easier to follow. It is both funny and interesting in its representation of different cultures. It is romantic, and tragic, and successfully makes the audience feel a range of emotions.

Tower Theatre – Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Thursday 7 April 2015 – 7.00pm
Season: 7 – 9 May 2015

For more information, visit: www.westernedge.org.au for details.

Image: Legrand Andersen as IAGO – photo by Nicola Dracoulis

Review: Thomas Jones

Thomas Jones has gained extensive experience over the past seven years both in the UK and Australia working as an editor for Australian Times, and a freelance reviewer for Everything Theatre and FilmDude. He was also an assessor for the Off West End Theatre Awards known as The Offies, and created KangRooviews – a website promoting Australian performing arts in the UK.