Othello, Botanical Gardens, Glasgow
The actors had to grapple with the elements but there were also some accomplished performances in the first show of the 2013 programme of Bard in the Botanics, says Mark Brown.
The sun descends slowly over Glasgow’s botanical gardens. An avian choir accompanies the arrival of the audience, who take their places on a grassy knoll which might prove to be Murray Mound (on a good day) or Dealey Plaza (on an infamous one). So begins, with Othello, the 2013 programme of Bard in the Botanics, an admirable event which continues next month with openings of an outdoor Much Ado about Nothing and a Julius Caesar under the glass of the splendid Kibble Palace.
Laudable though this mini-festival is, one can’t help but attend its productions with a mixture of hope and trepidation. As long as national arts funding body Creative Scotland sees fit not to support the programme, leaving Glasgow City Council and a few other enlightened sponsors to pick up the tab, artistic director Gordon Barr is always going to struggle along with uneven casts.
So it is here. Never mind that a few characters have been expunged (exeunt Roderigo, Bianca and Gratiano, to take three examples), Barr’s production of this great tragedy has bigger problems to face.
Performing outdoor theatre in the Botanics is not without its drawbacks. The miniature piranha flies known as “midges” aside, there’s the noise of the traffic from the busy Great Western Road. Voice projection, therefore, becomes a greater issue than it would be in even the largest auditorium.
It is a tremendous pity that a number of Barr’s actors, including Matthew Wade in the title role, are often drowned out by road noise. Wade makes matters worse when, in his character’s moments of rage or emotional pain, he moves into mock Lecoq mode, waving his arms around wildly like a distressed windmill.
Yet, as so often at Bard in the Botanics, there are also some accomplished performances. Kirk Bage’s northern English Iago is broodingly determined (and mercifully audible), while festival regular Nicole Cooper is blameless in every sense as Desdemona.
Outdoor Shakespeare requires warrior actors, and George Docherty takes up the challenge in no fewer than three roles, including Montano, Governor of Cyprus, as a humorously hard-drinking Scotsman. Indeed, the biggest laugh of the evening comes when Iago says that he learned his drinking song “in Scotland” (rather than, as the Bard has it, England) where “they are most potent in potting.”
Othello runs until July 6. For full information on the Bard in the Botanics season, bardinthebotanics.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on July 1, 2013
© Mark Brown