By: William Shakespeare
Featuring: Jiří Štěpnička, Alois Švehlík, Vladislav Beneš, Karel Dobrý, Igor Orozovič, David Prachař, Patrik Děrgel, Jan Jankovský j. h., Jana Boušková, Magdaléna Borová, Lucie Žáčková j. h., Jana Janěková ml.
Directed by: Daniel Špinar
Translated by: Jiří Josek
Adapted by: Daniel Špinar and Daria Ullrichová
Dramaturg: Daria Ullrichová
23 September, 19:00
Národní divadlo, Stavovské divadlo (Prague State Theatre, The Estates Theatre).
Following through on my resolution to attend a play whenever I travel abroad, turns out to be quite interesting, if daunting, when travelling in non-English speaking countries. Since I cannot understand Czech, I chose to attend a play in Prague that I would know the plot of, so that I would not be completely lost. The National Theatre, Prague, did offer surtitles in English for this play, but since I was prepared to watch the play without a translation (and having booked in the fourth row), I only glanced at the surtitles every now and then.
The first act is staged in front of the main tabs. There is little to no décor (only a microphone stand if I remember correctly). The action begins as Iago (David Prachař) and Roderigo (Patrik Děrgel) fight behind the tabs. As they crash into the curtain their forms can be discerned until finally they break through the main tabs and the rest of the action happens in clear sight. Othello is portrayed by a Caucasian actor (Karel Dobrý), but his arms are covered in bold, stripe-like tattoos, marking him as different from the other characters. In addition, the other characters’ faces are lightly covered in white powder. All the characters wear black, with the exception of Othello, Desdemona (Magdaléna Borová) and Bianca (Jana Janěková ml.).
After the main tabs have been raised, a type of waiting room with drab brown panels and three clocks, displaying the time in Cyprus, Venice and Stratford respectively, is revealed. There are also benches that look like they belong in a waiting room. In the back wall of this room there are transparent panels with doors leading to an indoor shooting range. Some of the conversations between characters are staged here – sometimes as they are practicing their shooting. With the help of microphones, they are still audible, but very definitely removed from the audience. I found this to be quite effective in making the audience feel like eavesdroppers to confidential conversations.
The celebrations following the wrecking of the Turkish fleet is developed into a soiree reminiscent of the roaring 1920s. The staging of this scene is quite spectacular. The drab waiting room is decorated with kitsch party paraphernalia, like a plastic tiger on wheels and a brightly coloured foil balloon in the shape of a heart. The scene opens with Desdemona, in a stunning red evening dress, singing a goose bump inducing rendition of Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind”. An atmosphere of decadence is very effectively established. Emilia (Lucie Žáčková j. h.) wears a black peplum dress and high heels. Her bright red, curly hair is cut into a chin-length bob. She wears bright red lipstick, chain smokes and seems to be always a little bit tipsy. After the celebration scene, a tableau in which the characters dance in slow motion is staged behind the transparent panels. This gives an ominous feeling to the decadent celebrations.
Throughout the play, tension builds very effectively. Two theatre taboos have already been broken (touching the main tabs and showing clocks on stage). This could already make the audience somewhat uncomfortable. This feeling reaches its height in a confrontation over a drink between Iago and Cassio (Igor Orozovič). Instead of handing Cassio a glass, Iago tosses it to him, and the glass is thrown around a few times. The unease that these staging choices cause in the audience on a representational level is therefore very successfully employed to heighten the tension on a fictional level. Without understanding a word of the play, I was therefore very much drawn into the action.