The Rehearsal, Playing the Dane at the Abbey Theatre now

Abbey Theatre

Pan Pan Theatre

23 – 26 May 2018


In Pan Pan’s purgatorial presentation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, you the audience are faced with a choice: who is going to be, or not to be, Hamlet?

Actors compete to play the title role but as we enter the graveyard world of this icon of individualism can anyone escape playing the Dane? Aren’t we all the main part?

Highly innovative and visually breathtaking, this is an audacious and irreverent riff on Hamlet that does not so much update or deconstruct the play as explode it. Playing fast and loose with our familiarity and expectations, the onstage Director rations out Shakespeare’s text, knowingly excavating its layers in a series of theatrical devices and conceits that focuses the large cast, and the audience, on the existential plight of its characters.

Even the stage is a Hall of Mirrors and the play-within-a-play, enacted by a troupe of Dublin Youth Theatre members, is Hamlet itself.

Dates: 23 – 26 May
On the Abbey Stage

Times: Wed – Sat 7.30pm, Matinee Sat 2pm

Tickets: €13 – €45 / Conc. €13 – €30

Running Time: 2 hours including an interval


Review: Hamnet at the Peacock/Abbey – Dublin Theatre Festival

Hamnet, as the play’s programme informs us, is just one letter away from greatness. It’s a predicament that haunts the play’s central character, Hamnet Shakespeare, who is based on the real-life son of William Shakespeare. In the play, Hamnet is close to great things – his father, literary fame, knowledge, life, death – but is tragically trapped on their margins. In one hour and with just two actors, Hamnet plucks its titular hero from the side-lines and makes him the centre of attention to tell his story.

From his opening lines as the eleven-year old Hamnet, Ollie West arrests the audience’s attention and never lets go. As a ghost and in asking the audience “Who’s there?”, before telling us “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers”, Hamnet recalls the opening of Hamlet and indicates that fourth-wall breaking will be par for the course. The audience will be both spectators to and participants in Hamnet’s working through of some big and very personal questions – What makes a man great? Why do we suffer? Why do we make art? Why would you choose “not to be”? Are some people born bad? When they’ve never really lived, why do children die? Does his father prefer him or Hamlet? Why did they see so little of one another? It is remarkable that in spite of the gravity of these questions and of Hamnet’s situation, the play is packed with comedy. For instance, Hamnet’s youth is highlighted as he energetically knocks out a Johnny Cash tune on his keyboard, gives a new friend tips on how best to play dead (the key is to stay still and not breathe – wannabe actors take note!), and stuck for answers he pulls out his phone to ask Google. As the play’s authors have crafted a fine balance between tragedy and comedy, West has plenty to work with and he ably shifts between the tones and the media (stage and film) of this production – no small feat for any actor, never mind a pre-teen boy.

K800_HAMNET-3177 - Dead Centre - 2017

Hamnet sees himself on the video – Image credit:

Exploring the performative and critical history of Hamlet, David Bevington observes that the play “has now evolved into a cultural expression of what we as a society have become today” (Murder Most Foul, 2011: vii). Like its more famous ancestor then, Hamnet tackles not only existential questions, it seeks in part to express and examine the state of contemporary society (“to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature” [Hamlet, 3.2]). Hamnet and his father Will are trotted out for our entertainment, but the play frequently forces the audience’s gaze back on itself. This is achieved both literally through the backdrop of a live video that shows the theatre and metaphorically as the play pokes at the suppurating wounds in modern life. Hamnet’s targets are near universal and many hit close to home; the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Donald Trump’s presidency, celebrity culture, the double-edge sword that is technology, and child-rearing practices (including the Work/Life balance which is an ideal but more often another source of guilt for the working parent), all fall within the bounds of the characters’ discussions.

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Hamnet faces the video screen – Image credit:

Throughout, Hamnet offers several opportunities to play “spot the reference”. Hamnet’s speeches are peppered with Shakespearean quotations and allusions and at other times the play lifts wholesale from the canon. Hamlet is the key source, but we also hear most of Constance’s “Grief fills the room up of my absent child” speech from King John; as Hamnet misses his sister there are echoes of the separated twins of Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors; Falstaff and Hal’s play acting in Henry IV Part 1 springs to mind when Hamnet plays at being Hamlet meeting Old Hamlet; and there are touches of Act 5 of Antony and Cleopatra when Hamnet worries whether in the future some actor will play him on stage, but botch the job.

The play is more than a tapestry of Shakespearean references though, and even as it draws on Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, it is something fresh, original, and striking. In the days since I have seen Hamnet, I’ve thought about it again and again – it is a prismatic work, turning the play over in my mind I keep seeing new facets, questions, and ideas – and I’m only certain of one thing: I want to see it again.

Hamnet is a Dead Centre and Abbey Theatre co-production and is written by Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel, with William Shakespeare. Cast and production details here.

Hamnet runs as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until 7th October – tickets here –  before touring to Europe and Asia. There will be a Post-Show Discussion on Thursday 5th October, with members of the company.

Theatre: The Shitstorm (The Tempest)


The Shitstorm is a hallucinogenic West Kerry riff on Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest, written by Simon Doyle and directed by Maeve Stone.

Miranda’s been stuck on the island with her dad Prospero for a while now and things have been pretty bad. His threats to give up his magic have always been hollow, until now… He’s run out on her and things have gotten a whole lot worse.

Ariel is out of a job, Caliban is dangerously bored, and Miranda is a teenage girl with no supervision. When the real storm hits she finally starts acting like one.

In this new play, Shakespeare’s characters find themselves in an entirely different context. The Shitstorm is a modern mash-up with some fierce female music and a new girl at the microphone.

A Maeve Stone production.
Developed with the support of the Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon.

Contains use of strobe lighting, partial nudity and adult themes.

Booking Information

Dates: 8, 9, 11 – 16 September
on the Peacock Stage

Preview: 8 September

Time: 9pm
Tickets: €16 – €14 Conc. / Preview €11

To book for a group of 6+ call (01) 87 97 266

Taken from:

Theatre: Hamnet, Abbey Theatre

hamnet online_holding_even


An Abbey Theatre and Dead Centre Co-production

From the Abbey website:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child
King John, Act III scene IV

William Shakespeare had one son. He named him Hamnet. He then left home to pursue his career in the theatre, effectively abandoning his family. In 1596, he was told that the boy – who was then eleven years old – was seriously ill. By the time Shakespeare reached Stratford, Hamnet had died.

In 1599, Shakespeare wrote a play called Hamlet.

Hamnet is too young to understand Shakespeare. And he is one letter away from being a great man. We are too old to understand Hamnet. How close are we to greatness? We meet in the middle, in a theatre, in purgatory: youth reaching forward to a life it will never know, an audience reaching back to a life it has forgotten.

A solo work for an eleven year old boy, Hamnet uses live video and dead video to bridge the gap between two generations, asking each other what they want to pass on and receive.


Dates: 26 September – 7 October
Previews: 26 & 27 September
On the Peacock stage

Times: Mon – Sat 8pm, Matinees Sat 2.30pm
Tickets: €18 – €25 / Conc. €16 – €20

To book for a group of 6+ call (01) 87 97 266

More information:

Review: Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe


The Taming of the Shrew, directed by Caroline Byrne for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, 6th August 2016

Reviewed by Emer McHugh, NUI Galway

For the last year or so, I’ve kept an eye on the programming schedules for the major theatres in the UK and Ireland for 2016. When you work on Shakespeare and Ireland in a major anniversary year such as this one – a Shakespeare 400/1916 double whammy, as you’ll have seen looking at this blog’s archives – looking at how major theatrical institutions mark these commemorations becomes of major interest. (I even had a makeshift scorecard at some point.) For example, the National Theatre are doing The Plough and the Stars; the Abbey did the same, as well as bringing Joe Dowling back to the theatre with Othello (interestingly, it was initially marketed as a ‘state of the nation’ play, a description that disappeared from the website as the run began). But, I don’t think I ever would have expected a combination of both commemorations to come from Shakespeare’s Globe. Then again, new artistic director Emma Rice continues to be full of surprises. And thus, we have Caroline Byrne’s The Taming of the Shrew, set in 1916 Ireland with an Irish cast and crew.


To be sure, this Shrew deals in a broad, globalised, commoditised Irishness – the musicians played their jigs and reels (strikingly reminiscent of Riverdance at times, of course) on the bodhrán, tin whistle, fiddle, and guitar for the crowd’s pleasure: all the audience needed were pints of Guinness and we’d be at a seisiún right there and then. The characters’ accents and dispositions varied from person to person, region to region: Edward MacLiam’s Petruchio was reminiscent of the Limerick comedian Tommy Tiernan, with slight Northern tones. Aaron Heffernan’s Lucentio and Imogen Doel’s Tranio sported broad Dublin accents, as did Aoife Duffin’s Kate and Genevieve Hulme-Beaman’s Bianca who were both portrayed as upper-class Dubliners. And Colm Gormley’s Hortensio also spoke in a Northern burr. Characters either wore flat caps and breeches, or looked as if they had just stepped out of a Bloomsday celebration (take Raymond Keane’s Gremio and his boater hat and suit as an example of the latter). The text was altered to add elements of Hiberno-English such as ‘Jaysus’, ‘mo chara’, and ‘go raibh mile maith agaibh’. The world of the play, too, was noticeably Irish Catholic: during her wedding, Kate sat on top of two staircases that folded together to display a neon-light cross, whereas Petruchio’s admission to Gremio that ‘me father died’ was met with numerous members of the cast blessing themselves with the sign of the cross. None of this is necessarily a criticism of the production, per se. A lot of this Irishness generated much humour from the proceedings, and certainly I found it funny given how recognisable it was to me as an Irish member of the audience. (And, so it seemed, from a lot of the audience as well.) However, given that this was performed at the Globe, and therefore for a majorly non-Irish audience, it makes me wonder whether this Irishness would manifest in the same way were it premiering at the Abbey, for Druid, or at the Lyric.


Production shot, Shakespeare’s Globe

Another important context to take note of is the #WakingTheFeminists movement: it’s particularly satisfying that a production set in 1916 responds to a movement born out of the response to a programme of events commemorating that same year. And generally, it’s satisfying to encounter feminist [Irish] Shakespeare on a major British stage, too. From the get-go, the production is sympathetic to Kate, and suggests that her taming by Petruchio is unnecessary and unneeded. From her spoken-word songs about how ‘the nation promised equality’, to her newspaper being ripped out of her hand by her own father, to the production refusing to shy away from the psychological and emotional abuse Petruchio subjects her to (she spends the second half in her torn wedding dress, sleeping on a bed with only Petruchio’s cowskin cape as a duvet) – this Shrew emphasises the implications of a patriarchal Irish Catholic society on the lives of women. In doing so, it does not provide easy answers: Kate delivers her final speech in resignation, anger, and frustration at the world she is forced to inhabit, and her relationship with a troubled-looking Petruchio is left up in the air. Additionally, it emphasises these women’s voices: instead of Petruchio, Kate is given the production’s final words through song, and Amy Conroy’s Widow has a much more expanded role to play: always watching, always waiting, quietly despairing at what unfolds in front of her. Throughout the production, she acts as Kate’s chain-smoking de facto feminist fairy godmother, providing unheard counsel and advice – to the point where the final scene appears to be a battle between her and Petruchio for Kate’s soul. (A Pyrrhic victory for Petruchio is implied, of course.) As Byrne comments in her programme note, ‘[i]t’s not a play about the Easter Rising, but it attempts to chime with the experience of Irish women’: Kate’s journey, and her trauma, is depicted sensitively and with nuance, and, in my view, provides a model of what feminist Shakespeare performance should look like.

It’s not unusual for Irish Shakespeare performance to respond to and to engage with the politics and issues of the here and now. If we reach back as far as 1999, Conall Morrison’s The Tempest premiered at the Abbey echoing the Good Friday Agreement a year before. Very recently, Wayne Jordan’s Twelfth Night at the Abbey acted as a response to Pantigate, a year before Ireland went to the polls on marriage equality, whereas his Romeo and Juliet at the Gate explored the ramifications of patriarchal societal structures. Shrew, whereas it may not have premiered in Ireland, speaks to particularly Irish concerns: Byrne states that ‘Irish women are still seeking equality to this day’, and this is reflected in the ongoing efforts of Lian Bell and her team to attain equality and equity in all sectors of Irish theatre, as well as the ongoing campaign to repeal the eighth amendment on abortion by many feminist campaigners (most recently seen in the Two Women Travel Twitter account and Brianna Parkins’ comments at the Rose of Tralee). Of course, I am not sure if all of this was in the mind of Globe audiences throughout the production’s run. I am also not sure if the production’s feminism was in every audience member’s mind either: judging by the ‘Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!’ chant Petruchio encourages the crowd to partake in very early on in the evening, as well as the cheering and whooping that greets a later kiss between the two. Both times, Duffin’s Kate is uncomfortable and unwilling to participate. So the next step, then, is for Byrne to bring her feminist Shakespeare to Irish audiences. If she does, I look forward to it. Her Shrew is vital, fearless, and willing to ask difficult questions.

Emer McHugh is an Irish Research Council-funded doctoral researcher and tutor at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway, where she researches the cultural politics of Irish Shakespeare performance in modern and contemporary Ireland. Follow her on Twitter at @emeramchugh.

‘Gesture on the Shakespearean Stage’, Dr Farah Karim-Cooper, Friday 27 May, Abbey theatre

UCD / Abbey Shakespeare lecture on Friday 27th May, 4pm on the Abbey stage.

‘Gesture on the Shakespearean Stage’


This talk explores the question of how in the sixteenth and seventeenth century playhouses Shakespeare’s actors used gesture as a versatile performance technology and illustrates how Shakespearean drama allows for a rich, textured and various gestural vocabulary.

With Dr. Farah Karim-Cooper (Head of Higher Education and Research, Shakespeare’s Globe). Actor Marty Rea (playing the role of Iago in the Abbey Theatre’s current production of Othello) will be supporting this reading.


Review essay: Othello at the Abbey and Shakespeare in Ireland

Review essay by Edel Semple

Othello at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin (Dir. Joe Dowling) – May 2016

Cast and production details:


At the UCD / Abbey Shakespeare talk in the Pearse Museum, actor Owen Roe discussed with the audience a concern that sometimes rears its head when Irish theatres tackle the works of the world’s most famous author. In the rehearsal room, Roe told us, Irish actors and directors express an anxiety about ‘doing Shakespeare’, and sometimes even theatre reviewers voice a scepticism about the effective staging of Shakespeare in Ireland, with Irish creative producers for Irish audiences. Some of the anxiety stems from a worry that English actors have an innate understanding of Shakespeare (this anxiety isn’t unique to the Irish; American actors also experience it, as noted in Al Pacino’s Shakespeare documentary Looking for Richard.) Familiarity and saturation are also issues; Shakespeare is England’s greatest literary export and, with the popularity of Shakespeare productions by the BBC, RSC, and the Globe Theatre, and the prominence of great British Shakespearean actors like Judi Dench and Ian McKellan, we are accustomed to hearing his works performed in RP or in some variety of an ‘English accent’. As demonstrated by Roe’s compelling reading of Shakespearean excerpts in different Irish accents, we can easily overcome this last obstacle – once you tune in, listening to Shakespeare in an Irish accent sounds as good, and as natural, as hearing The Playboy of the Western World performed in a Mayo accent. Moreover, the endurance of Irish interest in Shakespeare and the long tradition of Shakespearean production in Ireland should put any other fears to bed.

As recent public lectures by Prof. Andy Murphy and Prof. Emeritus Ger Fitzgibbon have shown, Shakespeare is woven into the political foundations and literary fabric of our nation. Many of the 1916 rebels, such as Padraig Pearse, were Shakespeare enthusiasts, and authors such as Sean O’Casey, W. B. Yeats, G. B. Shaw, and Oscar Wilde, to name but a few, were influenced by and wrote about Shakespeare. Ireland has produced several eminent Shakespearean scholars too; Edmond Malone, born in 1741 in Dublin, is still renowned as an editor of Shakespeare, while the celebrated Victorian critic, Edward Dowden, was born in Cork in 1843 and began his education at Queen’s College Cork (now UCC). When Israel Gollancz assembled A Book of Homage to Shakespeare, a limited edition collection to celebrate the tercentenary in 1916, there were two Irish contributions; a poem in Irish from Douglas Hyde entitled ‘How it fared with a Gael at Stratford-on-Avon’ and a short essay on ‘Shakespeare and Ireland’ from D. H. Madden, a former MP and current Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin.

A Book of Homage - Gollancz - 1916

Gollancz’s A Book of Homage to Shakespeare

There is also a long tradition of Irish actors performing Shakespeare to great acclaim. To cherry pick just two stage actors from across the centuries: In the eighteenth century, the Donegal-born actor Charles Macklin was renowned for his performance of Iago, Malvolio, and Macbeth, and his 1741 portrayal of Shylock as a tragic figure was celebrated as ground-breaking. Macklin often collaborated with the renowned theatrical impresario and actor David Garrick, and the duo had a lasting influence on the development of acting styles and theatre in the period. Born in Limerick in 1857, actress Ada Rehan was celebrated in the US and Europe for her performance of roles such as Viola, Rosalind, and Katherina. (Such was her fame that a World War II ship was named in her honour.)

Charles_Macklin_by_John_Opie and Ada Rehan as Viola - Folger Digital Images Collection.jpg

Ada Rehan as Viola (Folger Shakespeare Library) and Charles Macklin

More recently, Cork’s Camille O’Sullivan has toured the globe with the RSC in an award-winning one-woman show of The Rape of Lucrece, and in 2015 DruidShakespeare toured Ireland, visited New York, and RTÉ screened a documentary on their production of the history tetralogy. Notably, the current production of The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has an Irish director and all-Irish cast. The play’s action has also been transported from Padua to Ireland in Easter 1916 (and quite effectively, if early reports are anything to go by.) Shakespeare has even been successfully reworked to form new plays; Siren Productions staged A Tender Thing (which saw Romeo and Juliet as elderly lovers) in 2014 and PanPan’s Everyone Is King Lear In His Own Home played at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2012. On the small and big screen, Shakespeare has been performed by actors such as Micheál Mac Liammóir, Cyril Cusack, Fiona Shaw, and, most recently, Michael Fassbender and Jack Reynor. (Mac Liammóir even wrote of his experiences of playing Iago in Welles’ 1952 film in the memoir Put Money in Thy Purse: The Filming of Orson Welles’ Othello.) At this moment, the British Council and Queen’s University Belfast are celebrating Shakespeare 400 with a touring exhibition on the work of Belfast-born actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh, whose films include Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet.

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Mac Liammoir’s memoir and the British Council / QUB ‘Shakespeare Lives through Kenneth Branagh’ exhibition (Photo credit: British Council)

On Irish stages, Shakespeare has been performed since at least the seventeenth century. Taking Othello as an example; there are records of a performance of Othello in 1662 in Smock Alley, and over 400 productions of the tragedy were staged in Dublin between 1662 and 1904. (For details, see the ‘Shakespearean Performance in Dublin 1660 to 1904’ project.) Othello has been performed by amateur groups too, such as the Cork Shakespearean Company (founded in 1924), and by university drama societies, and the play is a staple in the education sector; Cyclone Rep’s ‘Shakespeare Sessions’ has brought the play to secondary school audiences, while Fíbín, an Irish-language theatre company, staged the play for Leaving Cert students in 2014.

Smock Alley Theatre Dublin - since 1662

Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin

With such a long and illustrious history of Irish interest in and performance of Shakespeare, and with a tapestry of connections linking Shakespeare with Irish politics, education, and art, the Abbey’s Othello makes for a fine contribution to our island’s theatrical tradition. Directed by Joe Dowling, this production is a confident and polished iteration of the four hundred year old tragedy. At the play’s opening, an enormous disc bearing an image of St. Mark’s lion was suspended over the stage and this set the action firmly in Venice. To quibble here on the set design: in comparison to the Italian city, the setting of Cyprus was only hinted at through lighting, with the backdrop becoming a washed-out dawn or a red sunset as the scene required. With such a spartan stage, an object more solid or an image more defining of the Cypriot island would have been welcome. Having experimented with an apron for their 2013 Lear, the stage has also received a makeover for Othello. Transformed into a thrust stage, the Abbey’s playing space now has the audience seated on three sides; this proved to be a successful and fitting arrangement that highlighted the oppressive atmosphere of the play. Thus, up close and personal when Iago divulged his plans, when Othello collapsed in a fit, and when Desdemona died on her marriage bed, we sat as judges and voyeurs of Shakespeare’s most domestic tragedy.

Abbey - Venetian senate - 2016

The Venetian Senate (Photo credit: Abbey Theatre Facebook)

Packed with suited politicians and a benevolent-but-inept Duke, the Venetian senate was reminiscent of the Dáil (cue a chuckle as the senators blustered about in ignorance and squabbled childishly.) Everyone, from statesmen to soldier, was accepting of Desdemona and Othello’s inter-racial marriage and pleased at the couple’s displays of love, except Brabantio (whose puce-faced racist interjections made the PC politicians wince) and the comical sap Roderigo. Roderigo was dressed and acted like an extra from West Side Story (I expected him to snap his fingers and break into ‘When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet’ at any moment). So pathetic was Roderigo’s love-sickness and so easily was he manipulated by the savvy Iago that he often added a desirable levity to break the building tension. Iago’s power over the gullible youth was so strong that it seemed he could persuade him towards anything. For instance, illustrating how Cassio and Desdemona’s “breaths embraced together”, Iago pulled Roderigo close enough to kiss him. This prospect dangled tantalisingly before Roderigo’s starstruck eyes, before the homoeroticism was quashed with Iago’s smug pronouncement: “Villainous thoughts, Roderigo!”

Abbey - Iago and Roderigo - 2016

Marty Rea as Iago and Gavin Fullam as Roderigo (Photo credit: Abbey Theatre Facebook)

Marty Rea’s Iago made the stage machiavel a familiar, but terrifyingly capable, ‘cute hoor’. Played as Northern Irish, Iago was quick off the mark and his accent underlined the sarcasm in his comments (“Cassio’s a proper man”.) To kickstart the night-time brawl that would see Cassio lose his office, Iago wheeled in a drinks cart and, while soliloquising at the end of the scene, he snatched up a sandwich and a glass of wine. This neat action marked Iago as a skilled (he multi-tasked by plotting while eating) and self-serving schemer, casual in his villainy. Later, ever-practical, Iago pocketed the coins Othello had strewn at his wife’s feet. However, Iago’s lowly position in the army’s pecking order was illustrated when his superiors lost control. Cassio was a heartbreakingly genuine gentleman (his speech on his lost reputation was moving) and his affection for Desdemona was clear, but he made for a nasty drunk. Grabbing Iago around the neck, the inebriated Cassio announced “this is my ensign” with the same sense of ownership and command as when he proclaimed “this is my right hand, and this is my left”. In affairs of the mind though, Iago always had the upper hand. When Iago suggested that Othello strangle Desdemona in “the bed she hath contaminated”, he lurked at the general’s shoulder like a devil whispering in his ear. Unlike Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, Othello had no ‘better angel’ to lure him from evil and he was pitifully alone as his ensign generated an unbalanced pyschomachia.

Abbey - Iago exulting 2016

Marty Rea as Iago (Photo credit: Abbey Theatre Facebook)

Peter Macon’s deep-voiced Othello bore the hint of a North African accent and, attired in his dress uniform, he cut an imposing figure as he fought his case before the Venetian senate. The scars on his head marked him out as an experienced soldier, though his love for Desdemona rendered him as gentle as a kitten. So happy were Othello and Desdemona, so pleased were they with one another, each time they cuddled like teenagers the characters onstage and the audience broke into a grin. However, while the play bears his name, Othello seemed to be increasingly side-lined as Iago’s fantasy took hold of his mind; gone was the great general, he was instead a twitching shell of a man no longer in control of his own life or even his own body. Othellos are often overshadowed by their Iagos, and that is perhaps a deliberate move on Shakespeare’s part; we see Iago’s machinations, as we do Richard III’s and Edmund’s, but we remain fascinated by such audacious malevolence, lured in as much as Othello.

Abbey - Othello in formal uniform 2016

Peter Macon as Othello in Venice (Photo credit: Abbey Theatre Facebook)

The play’s female triad were all Dubliners. Desdemona’s Southside accent, beautiful gowns, and playful teasing of Othello marked her as a kind of grown-up D4 debutante. Emilia was well-dressed and appeared like a middle-aged nanny, a companion rather than a maid. The power dynamic of her marriage was nicely established as, upon receiving a warm-welcome from Cassio, Emilia nervously looked at Iago, who was already watching her with a threatening expression. Emilia seemed fully aware of her husband’s flaws, but she was at the mercy of her sexual desire; rewarded with a deep kiss for surrendering the infamous handkerchief, she stumbled off stage in a daze of passion. While she prepared Desdemona for bed, the two women shared a beautiful moment of affection, making their imminent deaths all the more poignant. Seated on a bench on the sparse stage, the duo managed to create a perfect feeling of intimacy and friendship as they pondered their love lives and fates. The support and companionship exhibited by these upper class ladies provided a sharp contrast to the treatment of Bianca, who enjoyed no such solidarity or kindness from the Venetians. Liz Fitzgibbon’s Bianca had a loud voice and Northside accent, and she sported a boho dress and brazen attitude that marked her as indelibly different to the upper class Venetians. This Bianca was impossible to ignore, much to Cassio’s disappointment and to the audience’s amusement, and, I think, she will be hard to forget. The play did not conclusively come down on either side of the debate about Bianca’s identity; listed as a ‘courtesan’ in the dramatis personae only in the 1623 Folio printing of the play, in the Abbey production Iago labelled her a “hoor” (whore), but she acted more like a loyal if indiscreet mistress, and in 5.1 denied the appellation.

Abbey - Bianca and Cassio - 2016

Liz Fitzgibbon as Bianca and Barry John O’Connor as Cassio (Photo credit: Abbey Theatre Facebook)

To quibble once again on a matter of materiality and the limitations of the Abbey stage; for the play’s final scene, the arrival of a sleeping Desdemona in her bed was simply awkward. Although an effort was made to blend this piece of stage business in with the rest – the bed was carried on by actors in uniform – it was an inelegant move, out of place with the otherwise seamless action. Othello’s murder of his wife was uncomfortable viewing not only because of the innocence of the victim and the gullibility of her executioner, but due to our proximity to the sordid deed. In the aftermath of Desdemona’s death, Iago ran to exit but returned to stab Emilia; the fatal blow was delivered like the vengeful afterthought of a bold schoolboy. However, this action, like Othello’s suicide, was curiously clean and bloodless; presumably the practicalities of costuming and props over-ruled the play’s need for a “bloody” conclusion. A striking tableau closed out the tragedy; Othello lay dead by his wife, Emilia nearby, and Iago kneeled in tears (of remorse? relief? self-pity?), while the shocked and defeated Venetians could only look on and offer trite appraisals of the “heavy act[s]”.

Abbey - Desdemona in bed - 2016

Rebecca O’Mara as Desdemon (Photo credit: Abbey Theatre Facebook)

While the Abbey has staged one Shakespeare play annually in recent years, this was its first ever Othello and the production bodes well for the future of this tragedy and other Shakespearean dramas at our national theatre. Whatever anxieties we may have about ‘doing Shakespeare’ in Ireland, as the history outlined above shows and as the Abbey’s Othello and the myriad of productions, exhibitions, public lectures, and conferences around the country this year demonstrate, he is being ‘done’ and done well – here’s to the next four hundred years.

For more on Shakespeare 400 in Ireland see earlier posts and on Twitter: #ShaxIrl400 #Shakespeare400 #ShakespeareLives

Othello runs at the Abbey until 11th June 2016.

Related events of interest:

‘Talking Text Workshop’ on Othello at the Abbey on Saturday 28th May.

UCD / Abbey Shakespeare lecture by Dr. Farah Karim-Cooper (Head of Higher Education and Research, Shakespeare’s Globe) on ‘Gesture on the Shakespearean Stage’, accompanied by actor Marty Rea (currently playing Iago) on Friday 27th May, 4pm on the Abbey stage.