A tilted compass, framed by hulking green shipping containers, forms the main stage. A round black disc hangs above, serving as a screen for the many special effects that will accompany the play. This is the most complex set made in Singapore Repertory Theatre’s 6-year history with Shakespeare in The Park, and you probably thought they’re staging it alfresco at Fort Canning Park just to save money on the set, until you see Robin Don’s dramatic design.
Fans of Shakespeare will love that this classic, in keeping with the avant garde setting, has been given a modern twist, with cast members dressed in present-day garb, instead of the impractical period clothing of Shakespearean times. The original olde English lines the cast performs might feel a bit mismatched to the extremely modern set, unless you loved 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
Othello sees Roderigo (Shane Mardjuki) and Iago (Daniel Jenkins) work together to ruin their common enemy General Othello (Daniel Francis),. Roderigo is incensed that Othello’s married Desdemona (Wendy Kweh), whom he’d been eyeing for years, while Iago’s anger stems from being passed over for a promotion, Othello having given it to Cassio (Stephen Whiley) instead. both men plan on revealing the secret marriage between Othello and Desdemona to her father Brabanzio (Gerald Chew).
When that fails, Iago resorts to more desperate measures, and eventually creates a tangled web of lies about Desdemona being unfaithful and having an affair with Cassio. Iago even plants faux evidence of their alleged affair, including placing Desdemona’s handkerchief, a gift from Othello, in Cassio’s room.
The cast delivers a passable performance, but it’s Wendy Kweh who steals the many spotlights for the night. She brings life to Desdemona, a young, naïve woman who starts off as overly optimistic and cheerful, but grows on the audience as the play develops. Kweh delivers a haunting rendition of “The Willow Song” that demands attention, just nearing the end of the play, guaranteed to evoke tears from even the most unemotional.
Zura Johnson, who plays Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s close friend, Emilia, is another crowd pleaser. She’s cynical and honest, but it’s impossible not to empathise with her.
This year’s Shakespeare In The Park pales in comparison with the previous years in terms of acting. Francis is overly dramatic as Othello, compared to Adrian Pang who performed a stunning portrayal of Macbeth in 2011. But if you’re a literature buff and would love to spend a night reliving nights poring over the dog-eared Shakespearean plays, this is one play you shouldn’t miss.
Directed by Bruce Guthrie, who has also been part of last year’s Shakespeare in the Park, the play runs until 19 May, and tickets start from $45 at SISTIC.
Photos courtesy of Singapore Repertory Theatre.