Shakespeare in the Park is back, this time with one of the Bard’s first and finest tragedies. Gwen Pew talks to British director Bruce Guthrie.
25 Mar 2013: As one of the Bard’s most popular and oft-performed plays, Othello has captivated generations of actors and audiences alike. However, British director Bruce Guthrie – who’s back in town to direct the Singapore Repertory Theatre’s (SRT) upcoming production for its annual Shakespeare in the Parkperformance – is confident that he will still be able to keep things fresh. ‘I have never seen a version of this play that is set as modern as we are setting it. Or in the scale we are producing it. This is blockbuster-scale Shakespeare,’ he says. ‘I am a big believer in value for money and I know SRT shares that opinion. All of our ideas have come from how best to serve the play and how to convey that to a modern audience.’
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tragedy, it essentially follows the downfall of well-respected war general Othello – the Moor of Venice, as he is referred to in the play’s subtitle – as his jealous ensign Iago plots to destroy him and everything he holds dear in life.
‘There are a few laughs along the way, but it is essentially a thrill ride of a play that explores masculine jealousy and the consequences of judgement being impaired by it,’ says Guthrie. ‘I had a very strong instinct about the tone of this production of Othello and how it could work for an audience at Fort Canning Park. Our production will be modern and focus on the absence of war and its effects on a soldier who is in the mind set for battle.’
Other than a modern make-over in terms of how it looks, however, audience here should expect a pretty direct interpretation. ‘We have made some cuts to the original text as it is one of Shakespeare’s longest plays, but it is still Shakespeare’s story and we will stay true to his language and script,’ Guthrie promises.
Also notable, of course, is the question of Othello’s race. Though typically portrayed as a black character, modern interpretations have seen the role cast in any number of races – and given the demographics of Singapore, many had anticipated (and indeed, prefer) race-blind casting. But in this case, Guthrie has decided to fly in UK actor Daniel Francis for the role, commenting: ‘I wanted to cast a black actor so they would stand out not only in our cast, but in Singapore itself. I think that as long as Othello is a different race that stands out from the rest of the cast, then you are okay.’
He’s clear, however, that the most important thing for him is to ‘cast great actors’ and people who suit the roles; other lead roles will be filled by the locally-based Brit Dan Jenkins as Iago and UK-based Singaporean actress Wendy Kweh as Desdemona.