Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

O t’ hell oh

Ok, it wasn’t as bad as hell, but I thought that was a clever title. I couldn’t persuade Big Friendly (or force or beg him) to join me last night for the opening of UCT Drama department’s production of Othello at The Baxter. I met G there and he was my date. So, there was a who’s who and a huge gathering which was rather impressive, although I struggled to find a programme and the woman handing out tickets was so rude when I asked her for one. I digress.

The blue slatted set and its levels are striking as you walk in to the theatre. Director Geoffrey Hyland is brilliant at styling, visuals and music. And then the play starts. And it is unfortunate that the first half is the one filled with the small parts, because it is unrelenting in its studentness. We were three rows from the front and I could see the lake and brown shading used on Christo Lombard‘s cheeks to age him enough to play Brabantio, Desdemona‘s father. Jodi Balfour did a rather good cameo of the Duke of Venice in a first half that was long and bleak and filled with very am-dram performances. If I had been with Big Friendly I fear we may have left none the wiser at this point.

The second half was so much better it was like a different play. It helped that it was mainly the time for Othello, played superbly by Vaneshran Arumugam, a professional and very talented actor who is back at UCT doing his master’s degree, and Desdemona, performed sensitively and powerfully by Ariella Caira. I was really moved during the famous bedroom murder scene, which was beautiful and unrelenting and very sad. Vaneshran’s depth and range as a good classical performer really come to the fore here. His portrayal of Othello‘s journey is subtle, convincing and very real. And he handles the language really well for the most part. He is leagues ahead of most of his student co-players and this throws out the balance somewhat. At least he is matched by Ariella‘s performance of Desdemona. She is good, very good, and truthful and strong and solid.

othello I think my biggest disappointment was Iago. The character of Iago is Shakespeare’s purest and most outright villain. He is inspired by pure jealousy and ambition and is ruthless, calculating and savage in its execution. He is in turns charming, wheedling, ugly, brutal, vicious and cunning. Charlie Keegan is definitely a very talented young man. But here he just has to work too hard on a part that needs age, experience and a certain inherent power to be convincing. What we get instead is a manic, over the top, and slightly crazed performance complete with huge facial distortions, snorting, weird neck twists and demented eyes and eyebrows. I thought of a Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer. 

Albert Pretorius tried hard as Cassio and he had some sweet moments in an otherwise unconvincing puppet like performance of ‘the tool’ for Iago. But Bianca and her belly dancing friends were just plain hideous. Student extras.

Having come straight from my own Maynardville experience with The Merchant of Venice I was also a little disappointed in how most of the cast (with the exception of Vaneshran and Ariella) handled the verse and the text.

Othello is this year’s school set work and all the schools will get a pretty good idea of what is going on with the story and its themes. I guess that is what is important here. I was left wondering why this production is being staged at The Baxter though. There is no doubt that it is a student production; beautifully styled, well costumed by Ilke Louw and Leila Anderson and well polished by Geoffrey Hyland, but a student production none the less. And you can tell.

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17 Comments

  1. Ashley

    I never realised your judgment was THIS poor, but now have some idea as to how bad it is. I, along with 30-odd other people I happened to hear or talk to thought this production was phenomenal. As for your disappointment with Iago, I am bewildered. It was portrayed with utter conviction and he played with the text and verse beautifully,his character dimensions were rich, colorful, lively and excellently portrayed. He lives through the character and had Iago’s journey displayed wonderfully.

    Of course you are subject to your opinion, but you seem to be on your own on this one.

  2. Tante B

    Clever –

  3. Peter

    Indeed, ay Indeed! ‘Tis pitiful Megan, you have had a serious lapse in judgment here! You must have been watching something else. Leave these distorted reports/fantasy reviews to Megan’s literal head and not on my computer screen. I am aware of where you head is just by having watched Merchant of Venice — now if there ever was a Shakespeare of such dread (bar Crutchley and a few others) it was that. And many, many others share my sentiments about its place in the darkest corners of Maynardvilles Archive.

    Monstrous!

  4. Petro

    It is obvious that you have not read Shakespeare for a long time or you would have realised just how far ahead of his peers Charlie Keegan was in his portrayal of Iago. It is demanded that Iago is maniacal and diabolical. We have become too used to “polite” villains. Keegan becomes the real thing in a way that is both fascinating and terrifying at the same time – a multi-dimensional scoundrel of the worst kind. What talent this man has!

  5. megan

    So, it’s very exciting that you all have found me. I have a suspicion that it’s because I am the only person in Cape Town who publishes an opinion the day of or after the opening. So, when you do a search I am the first or sometimes the only thing that come up.
    Now, I am all for opinions, open debate, differences of thought, well backed up discussion, mud slinging, bitch sessions, whatever suits your fancy, but please allow me the same privilege. meganshead is MY blog. These are MY ideas. And it is my place to have bold, extreme, contraversial ideas and opinions. Now, FOI (Friends of Iago), I totally get that Charlie Keegan’s performance did it for you, and I’m pleased as punch. What is a pain in the butt for me is that the rest of my fair, balanced, detailed review was ignored!

  6. Brian

    If someone assumes the dubious blogging “right” to be a theatre critic and to put in black and white opinions that may/may not have an influence on young people’s careers, at least you should be able to master your own craft of writing. So while we all agree that you have the right to say anything you wish and hold opinions you ought, at least, to be able to spell before you justifiably earn the right to credible “contraversial” [sic] ideas…

    By the same token, if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.

    And, for the record, I do not know the students you slated but I saw the show and a riveting performance from the young Keegan fellow.

  7. megan

    Ouch. Right. Controversial. Sorry.
    Heat? Kitchen?
    Dubious blogging right to be a theatre critic? Go on.
    And with regard to the Keegan fellow; I’m pleased as punch for you. As above.

  8. The Saint

    Well, they may not like you but they read what you say !!!! Didn’t see the show so can’t and won’t comment on the main debate. But as for the somewhat unhappy element of personal criticism that has bitchily crept in, well as the song goes “the long, the short and the tall”.

  9. Geoff Hyland

    Dearest Megan… was sent here by some of my “upset” students. Thought it was a great review… especially ’cause it gets people talking, raving, shouting, debating about Shakespeare!!!
    I have to say the 1st third of “Othello” is a bastard… never has Shakespeare taken so long to set things up and much of your problem with the production is indeed my problem with the play structurally. It takes so damn long to get going!
    There’s also an inherent problem in bringing to life Shakespeare’s major characters, in this case Iago… unless they conform to some preconceived notion or idea in the audience member’s head, then the actor has gotten it wrong. But I don’t essentially have a problem with you saying how you thought you’d like him to be. I can just say that this was how Iago emerged from this actor and in this production. As a director I value the actor as artist and this gutsy, ballsy portrayal feels right. He certainly is an emotionally thrilling character rather than an intellectually chilling one and you get both types in this world… the blunt object kills as effectively as the stilletto!
    You question the production going to the Baxter… one of the reasons is that this is a setwork… 3 times the number of learners will get to see “Othello” there as they would’ve at The Little. (I am sure as a theatre person you can applaud that idea?)
    Finally, as to the student-ness of it all (and I am afraid I am gonna get a little acid here!), at least we bill ourselves as a student production. There was a Shakespeare earlier this year where I believe, contrary to the what was seen for the most part on stage, the actors went as professional! And it is a lot easier to modulate your voice on a microphone!

  10. Daniel Galloway

    Dear Megan!
    Many thanks for your time spent on producing a review of our OTHELLO. Nothing quite like a debate to get things going. . .
    However, there is obvious room for me to comment here and I feel I must – as Production Manager, Producer and Lighting Designer on the show, my heart is pretty close to this enormous project (when last did you see 40 actors playing on the Baxter Main Stage, or any stage for that matter?).

    In the words of our HOD (an extract from our program)
    “…Almost every year for as long as I can remember, the Drama department at UCT has produced a Shakespeare production invariably in the Little Theatre and particularly aimed at high school learners. These productions provide us with an opportunity to expose our students to a specific technical and artistic challenge. They also provide an opportunity to enthuse learners with a passion for Shakespeare and the theatre in general through innovative and exciting interpretations and stagings that appeal to young, contemporary audiences. Geoffrey Hyland’s production of Othello, first produced in 2007, was an extremely successful example. The limited size of the Little Theatre meant that many learners missed the opportunity of seeing the production and raised the possibility of a re-staging in a bigger venue. Building on ongoing discussions between Chris Weare (Director of the Little Theatre) and Mannie Manim (Director of the Baxter) regarding ways to link the work of the University to the Baxter Theatre Centre, a suggestion was made to re-work Othello for the Baxter in 2008. And so here we are!…”

    Perhaps that helps to explain why we are playing at the Baxter – not that it needs explaining, it should be pretty self explanatory.

    Clearly it would be unfair for me to comment on your opinion with regards to some actors in this particular production, however, I do feel a little offended that it is being slightly “disrespected” for the incredible spectacle that it is, particulary in the light of the recent Shakespearian offerings in this Town.

    All the best and thanks for a great theatre website, heaven knows we need more of them!
    Daniel.

  11. megan

    Nice to see you here! Geoff, Daniel, everybody! Shoo, I’m getting a whole new readership!
    I think this whole thing has gone a bit crazy. I’ve reread my review and I think it’s a fair, mostly positive, well balanced piece where I am clear about what I loved and what I didn’t. I agree about the first third; it’s hideous, and more difficult when all players are so young.
    In all fairness to Charlie, I say how talented he is before I go into how and why I didn’t like his Iago. The main reason is because I felt the part was too big for him. My opinion of your and his choices. One man’s goose and all that.
    I questioned the Baxter as a venue for a student production because of the expectation that was created that the production is a student/professional collaboration, which was possibly what I was expecting. I didn’t really see much publicity billing the show as a student production.
    Finally, no argument, not even one little bit, about the acid “professionals” in that other production. I share your opinion on that entirely.

  12. megan

    And one last thing from me and then I’ll shut up. I have never had so much passionate defence of a production on this bloglet ever. Viva your commitment and dedication. My sincere good wishes to the cast, crew, and makers of Shakespeare. Bravo.

  13. Zoe

    Hi Megan. Hi everyone else.

    I didn’t see this production of Othello that has gotten everybody so up in arms. But I found Daniel Galloway’s comment “…I do feel a little offended that it is being slightly “disrespected” for the incredible spectacle that it is, particularly in the light of the recent Shakespearian offerings in this Town.” a little bit curious. Which Shakespearean productions are you speaking of, sir? I found The Merchant of Venice quite amazing. I think it’s a bit obtuse of you to put all recent Shakespearean productions being performed in Cape Town under the same blanket of mediocrity.

    On an unrelated note: Really love the blog Megan. It’s refreshing to read the opinion of someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Keep it up.

  14. Rutger

    If evil is what we expect it to be we wouldn’t be disturbed by it. I found Iago’s impression a rather unconventional one. Gladly so, still something new can be added to this character.

  15. Athlone

    I’m afraid I differ with Zoe – Megan, you clearly don’t know what you are talking about.

    Having seen the production of Othello I was encouraged by a student production where the stereotypes of theatre were challenged. The roles were stretched, and as is the job of a learning production something fresh, dangerous and original was tried. In particular, I refer to the brilliant interpretation of Iago by Charles Keegan.

    The privilege of the internet is that anyone can post what they choose, but with that privilege, I would suggest, goes a responsibility. Here Megan’s blog was the first to comment on this production and as such was able to rank high in the Google ratings. Yet Megan chose to just make smart Alec remarks which betrayed a misunderstanding of the attempt of this production, which was to stretch the students and develop something brave and original – for the production was a rarity – new wine on old bottles.

    How easy to portray Iago as the picture book villain – to emphasise the smarmy and the creepy. Yet here we saw an attempt at something different, an Iago in high camp mode, a mannered, mad and maddening reinterpretation of this totem of disloyalty. This high risk attempt at the role deserved congratulation. Instead, dear Magan, you chose the internet to satiate your own vanity in an attempt to be Miss Clever. Didn’t get very far though, did it.

    And to those who disagreed with you, oh how lamentable were your protestations that this was your site – where you are licensed to lay down the law as you wish. What an arrogance, and what a sad prostitution of the privilege of the freedom afforded by the internet.

    To those who have yet to see this creditable interpretation of Othello – book your tickets now. You will see something inspired and inspirational by fresh young actors and actresses who have a genuine career in front of them. Keegan and gang we will hear of in the future and for many years to come. Well done Cape Town – your sons and daughters have done you proud. And Megan? I suspect you will return to your illiterate, ignorant and ill considered obscurity.

  16. Jason

    Athlone, Meisie, kyk hoe lyk jou hare!

  17. Daniel Galloway

    Zoe – with respect – I urge you to watch Othello and then pass comment. Please. At least that way you will be a little more informed and armed for the debate.

    Also, not too sure why you are having a little go at me when previously posted comments re “other Shakespeare productions” are direct and cutting (even from the owner of this blog site!!!!)

    Let us all just slow down here a little and remember what it is we do. We make theatre. We make magic. Sometimes we get it right (to some people’s taste) and sometimes we get it wrong (to some people’s taste). Lets not get lost in all this sillyness.

    The debate is good and the energy encouraging, but getting personal is all a little tacky and really does miss the point.

    I hope you all have a lovely weekend.

    Zoe – come watch the show. It closes next Saturday.
    Daniel

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