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A super charged one-hander

Review: Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company & Te Rehia Theatre Company, SolOthello ·
Subiaco Arts Centre, November 21 ·
Review by Jan Hallam ·

There are stories and there are storytellers. When a good story meets a good storyteller, magic happens.

Regan Taylor, from New Zealand’s Te Rehia Theatre Company, in collaboration with co-writer Craig Geenty, has adapted the culturally problematic Othello into a one-hour maelstrom of high drama, pathos and flat-out comedy.

Directed by Tainui Tukiwaho, SolOthello is hugely entertaining and inventive, with highly successful insertions of Te Ao Maori language, effective use of exquisitely crafted masks and one super-charged personality in Taylor, who carries this one-hander to its inevitable conclusion.

Taylor begins the performance with a “dissertation” on the “thief Shakespeare” who, Taylor asserts, stole the story of Othello (and probably a whole heap more) from Maori lore. Given the uncanny similarity of his interpretive Te Mata Kokako o Rehia mask-work to commedia dell’arte, we might have to reconsider the Italian Renaissance as well!

Co-produced by WA’s Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company – SolOthello is much more than a Shakespeare mash-up. Cultural appropriation and alienation are all at play here, refreshingly disruptive and thereby enhancing the notions of race, gender and power that Othello traditionally evokes.

It is, at times, a raw confrontation.

SolOthello strips the Shakespeare play back to four characters – Othello, Desdemona, Iago and Rodrigo – revving up the devastating impact of patriarchy, jealousy and envy of the original text (yes, I’m revealing my cards).

Taylor’s haka-inspired heart pumping, foot stamping Othello is impressive and his whining Rodrigo exquisite. But his Iago is something else. He manages to grow Iago’s small-minded malevolency into a golem capable of enormous evil. It is really something to see.

The gender discourse of this play is a well-tilled field. In this respect, Othello, and its natural companion from Shakespeare’s “comedies”, Much Ado About Nothing, never fails to imbue a thinking audience with unbearable sadness.

Not for its history but for its Ground Hog Day future – no culture on earth has yet come to grips with men’s violence against women for what it is – men’s absolute responsibility to own and to change.

Taylor exquisitely renders Desdemona as a speechless, keening wraith, drifting through the hands of powerful and manipulative men until Othello loves her “none too wisely, but too well” for the last time and murders her.

Lovers of Shakespeare and theatre have seen this scene many times, on the stage and in their minds, but they are encouraged to revisit it with Taylor’s master hand. His simple yet heartbreaking portrayal is up there with the best.

SolOthello is an intense, provocative hour of theatre, which Perth is fortunate to witness.

SolOthello plays Subiaco Arts Centre until November 24.

Pictured top: Regan Taylor in “SolOthello”. Photo: Dana Weeks.

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