London’s International Theatre Company returns with a new take on the Bard’s most compact tragedy


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2010

Courtesy of Ashley Associates

In the salad days of the Bubble economy, visits by the Royal Shakespeare Company were a regular feature of the performing arts calendar. But ever since the Tokyo Globe theater in Shin-Okubo was hawked to idol management agency Johnny’s eight years back, English-language Shakespeare productions have mainly come from the International Theatre Company London.

Despite its shoestring budgets and pared-to-the-bone casts and sets, the ITCL, produced by Grantly Marshall and directed by Paul Stebbings, has done a credible job of delivering The Bard’s works to Japanese audiences. The company now embarks on an extensive swing through the country’s universities and auditoriums. Remarkably, it’s their 34th Japan tour and the beginning of an epic 30-country, four-continent journey.

Centering on the jealous Moorish general Othello, his ill-fated wife Desdemona and the scheming Iago, Othello, says Marshall, is Shakespeare’s most perfect play.

“Othello is a thriller, a love story, a tragedy and an exploration of race, prejudice, power, war and human folly,” he says. “Written by Shakespeare at the height of his powers, its poetry is finer than Hamlet, its psychology deeper than Macbeth, its love story more compelling than Romeo and Juliet, its heartbreaking tragedy more moving than King Lear.”

At the same time, Marshall believes that Othello has been misunderstood.

“This is not a play about the helpless victim Desdemona falling to the cruelty of her husband and treachery of Iago,” he says. “This is a play about fascination—fascination in love, fascination and jealousy, fascination and death. The central characters are caught in a terrifying vortex of their own making and perhaps their own desire.”

Stebbings promises a production true to Shakespeare’s original, but at the same time it features a novel device: a live score by composer Thomas Johnson that will be sung and played by the performers.

In the lead role is Eugene Washington, who previously played Othello at the Cambridge Shakespeare Festival. His credits include an appearance at the Royal Shakespeare Company, as well as TV shows such as Law & Order and Doctor Who.

Desdemona is played by Holly Hinton, who recently completed an ITCL tour of Gulliver’s Travels. Hinton has an MA in acting from ArtsEd London and has trained with the St Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy in Russia, among others.

In the role of Iago is David Chittenden, who has acted in numerous productions for the Oxford Shakespeare Company. The winner of the first Laurence Olivier Bursary Award, he recently completed a run as Lord Capulet in ITCL’s Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespearian tragedy performed in English by the International Theatre Company London, under the direction of Paul Stebbings. May 17-June 6, various times, ¥2,500 (student)/¥5,000 (adult). Rikkoukai Hall, Shinagawa. Tel: 0570-02-9999 or www.stageplay.jp/en/