As the spotlight shone brightly upon the Lionel Wendt stage, Shakespeare’s ageless Moorish General Othello once again stepped into its intense gaze, ready to entrance the crowd gathered at the Lionel Wendt with his tragic tale of love, racism, deceit and murder.
This time he did so in celebration of the 175th anniversary of Royal College, and indeed a celebration it was. Every member who acted in Director Thushara Hettihamu’s adaptation of ‘Othello’ played their roles to perfection. They also infused their own understanding and style into each of their characters, making the play unique yet true to the original.
The audience was shaken from the very beginning when the play started off with arguably the most heart wrenching scene of the whole drama, when Othello lays tormented by the sleeping Desdemona. Actor Arjuna Wignaraja, playing the role of Othello, magnificently brings out the anguish, hurt and sorrow that his character feels while convincing himself that he should smother to death the woman he loves, his wife.
Thanuja Jayawardene (Desdemona) adds to both that scene and to many others with a portrayal of Desdemona that is both vulnerable and endearing. Thanuja successfully brings out the deep love Desdemona feels for Othello, her innocence and the desperation of her character’s situation.
Thanuja did so well in her role as Desdemona that she was voted the Best Performer, in a text messaging competition, by members of the audience.
However, although Thanuja was perfectly on the mark with her acting, it was Iago who was the real show stealer. Mohamed Adamaly embraced the role completely, exhibiting Iago’s despicable treachery as well as his deep seated resentment of Othello with the greatest of ease. Yet throughout his whole performance Mohamed managed to make the character lovable by injecting his role with a healthy dose of humour and wit. When the time came for the curtain call, it was for this reason that Mohamed received the loudest applause of the night.
Surrounding each of these major characters was a solid supporting cast who confidently delivered equally memorable performances. The charm and chivalry of Michael Cassio was poignantly resurrected by Sajith Amendra. The determination and exhuberance of Roderigo was brought out most successfully by Laknath Gunathilake. The loyalty and courage of Emilia was effortlessly displayed by Shannon Misso. The displeasure and hurt of Brabantio (Suren Gnanaraj), the frivolity and jealousy of Bianca (Ashini Fernando), the respectability and honour of Lodovico (Nanda Abeysekera), the list of convincing performances goes on and on.
Director Hettihamu also added elements of dance and music during vital segments of the story to further enliven the play. These moments include the transfer of Desdemona’s handkerchief to Cassio and the fight between Cassio and Roderigo which leads to Roderigo’s murder.
The Cassio-Roderigo fight is particularly impressive for the dramatic use of stage lighting and music. Throughout the three minute sequence the audience is riveted by a background which flashes from red to white, amidst the darkness and haunting music which shroud Cassio and Roderigo as they fight each other high on a stage prop.
A casual glance at the very large audience revealed a fair portion of pleased young faces. This is indeed heartening considering the growing disconnection between the younger generation and the works of Shakespeare. This alone, apart from the night’s excellent reproduction of one of the Bard’s most cherished plays, will leave Hettihamu with a profound sense of accomplishment.