Theatre review: Othello

LOVE STORY: Robbie Magasiva stars in Othello at the Maidment Theatre.
LOVE STORY: Robbie Magasiva stars in Othello at the Maidment Theatre.

There have been a lot of expectations heaped on the latest production of Othello - both high and low. With a cast stuffed with telly stars, a sort of newbie director and the addition of song and dance, it could be a recipe for disaster.  But thankfully director Jesse Peach has made something quite delicious.

Othello is the tale of love and loss; of jealousy and greed; friend versus foe. They are themes that are accessible and worldly enough to make the prospect of experiencing the story for the first time less daunting. And this production manages to keep you guessing without feeling lost for one second.

Matt Minto was undoubtedly the star of this show. With more lines than any other Shakespearean character, Minto's Iago was the perfect combination of charm, destruction and a sneaky sense of humour. 

With only the slightest of first night uncertainty early on, his descent into true evil is effortless and compelling. 

Minto is getting a reputation around these parts for playing the bad guy, but the thing is, he just does it so damn well - you can't help but almost like a very unlike able character. 

While Robbie Magasiva might be a familiar face, this is his first time playing with the words of Shakespeare. And the title role is no mean feat. 

But Magasiva does it with a skilled hand and you feel this is a performance that is only going to get more refined with time.  His fall from grace is mighty, if a touch rushed, and his final moments in the performance are emotionally charged and completely gripping.

And Morgana O'Reily's Desdemona has a sassy and a spark that brings her role out of the 1600s in firmly into a more modern time. The balance of her optimism and spunk with her husband's downward plummet is heartbreaking to watch, and her death scene is certainly a moment of real power in this strong production.

Director Jesse Peach is a man with a vision and the guts to see it through. His choice to combine classic Shakespeare with the modernity of Douglas Wright's choreography and Gareth Farr's original soundtrack took the production to another level.

Although Wright's work did prove somewhat divisive. Even talk in the bathroom queue during intermission was split between those who felt it brought a layer of other-worldliness and understanding to the story, and those who thought it was just excessive and a bit odd.

Both arguments have weight. The idea is a brave one, and at times it did miss the mark, but overall the combination of dialogue and dance took the performances and production up a notch from your run-of-the-mill Shakespearean experience.

And with staging that is sparse but stunning, with secret spots that revealed themselves the whole way through and (literal flashes) of crisp, white spot-lighting, the whole thing has a filmic quality that added to the drama.

But now for a personal gripe. Obviously opening night is exciting for everyone - the actors, the director, the best friends of the actors, the usher's sister's next door neighbour. You get the point. 

But to have people who are quite rightly proud of knowing someone on stage giggle, snigger and chat the whole way through is just plain rude. I know Auckland is an island, but maybe keep your village gossip for after the show.

Crowd complaints aside, this is a lively and exciting version of an age-old story and one that will only get better with time.

Othello runs at the Maidment Theatre until August 13.