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FARAI GWAZE (OTHELLO)
Who is Othello? “Besides the obvious Moorishness, I believe Othello is an insecure man caught between finding acceptance and believing he actually has been accepted. Not forgetting his harsh experiences a child, he has achieved a great deal as a soldier, rising to the rank of general in the Venetian army. From being sold to slavery, travelling to exotic lands and having countless near-death experiences, he’s had a colourful life. I believe, despite all those achievements, his greatest one was winning the heart of Desdemona – not only a beauty to behold in all Venice, but she is also the daughter of a high-ranking official in society. She symbolises his final ascendance to acceptance and is the reason why I feel her betrayal cuts to the core of his deepest insecurity, being an outsider.”
Best and Worst Character Traits? “Othello’s nicest quality would have to be his honour and nobility; he truly is a man of his word. His worst would be his temper; you see it when he finds Montano and Cassio at each other’s throats in Cyprus and later when he strikes Desdemona.”
And your opinion of Shakespeare? “Most people have a tough time accessing the literature. Shakespeare’s plays speak to universal experiences we all share, so watching the stage performance definitely sheds more light for students on aspects they may have had difficulty understanding.
ROBYN McHARRY (DESDEMONA)
Favourite aspect of this play? “One of my favourite parts of the play is Emilia's speech to Desdemona where she questions the traditional patriarchal society of the day. My favourite line being “the ills we do, their ills instruct us to”…
I believe that Shakespeare’s stories have always meant to be performed as opposed to read. As in any play, the story only truly manifests when it is shared between the performers and their audience. The black and white text is brought to life… this is where the humanness of the characters, the… pain, happiness, love and loss is found, where the audience begins to invest in and relate to the unfolding story.”
Desdemona’s nicest and worst qualities? Desdemona’s finest quality is her incredible loyalty to her husband and those she considers her close and loved ones. With her loyalty to her husband she also possesses an uncontaminated virtue which she holds in the highest regard. However, her noble loyalty then turns out to be her fatal flaw, whereby her loyalty to her husband results in her death, as she defends her husband and his actions to her dying breath…
“For me, Othello addresses the important issue of “otherness” and how, through either colour, culture, religion, sex or anything else, we as humans tend to alienate another because they are not the same as us…
“This is still highly apparent in today’s world as we see its manifestations through religious wars, xenophobia or mere classroom bullying. The mentality of difference is a destructive and harmful one, be it 200 years ago or yesterday.”
MARC KAY (CASSIO)
Favourite aspect of this play? “Murder, mayhem, maiming and dismemberment all hinge on… a handkerchief. Shakespeare was writing about Chaos Theory and the Butterfly Effect before scientists had even put a name to it.”
Who is Michael Cassio? “He is Othello’s lieutenant, and although unproven in the fields of battle, a good (if methodical) soldier. His loyalty is unquestionable, but his reputation for being a charmer and a ladies’ man ultimately allows Iago to exploit Othello’s jealousy.”
Key issues in life that Othello addresses? “Because it’s a personal demon, jealousy is the theme that resonates the most. Without proper communication, Othello’s jealousy (fuelled by Iago) very quickly spirals out of control, and into the realm of tragedy. A little bit of communication could’ve gone a long way.”
CLINTON SMALL (Iago)
Small relishes the opportunity of performing Shakespeare and particularly this character, which he sees as a “twisted complexity”: “Iago is a wonderful character to play because he’s like a puzzle with more pieces than you need. Almost everything he says in the play he doesn’t mean and everybody around him believes every word, except maybe his wife. We actually have no concrete idea as to why he does what he does, except that he is just not a nice man… Iago is clever and eloquent, which would be nice except that he uses it to destroy people’s lives around him, and that’s probably not even his worst quality.”
Key issues in life that Othello addresses? “For me personally, the most astonishing thing about Othello is the existence of a person like Iago, who can take the insecurities and fears of the people around him and use them so that they bring about their own downfall, and he does so just because he can. It’s a play about the delicacy of the sweet things in life, like love and honour, and how easily these things can turn to jealousy and uncertainty.”
JANNA RAMOS VIOLANTE (Emilia)
Your favourite aspect of this play? “I’m an old romantic, so the relationships are what I love about Othello. Desdemona’s brave love for Othello and Emilia’s irrepressible love for Iago…
Emilia? “Emilia is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s female characters. She’s a very layered character. She’s worldly-wise and hardened by her circumstances, but has the most incredible warmth as well. Emilia is Desdemona’s lady in waiting and the wife of the villain – Iago… Emilia is warm, fun, sexy and feisty. I don’t think she has any bad qualities (laughs).”
BRYAN HILES (Roderigo)
Tell us about Roderigo. “He is rich, naive, hopelessly in love with Desdemona. Easily manipulated by Iago. I’m not sure I have a ‘favourite’ aspect of the play, but I enjoy the contrast between Cassio’s wholesome goodness and Iago’s evilness and how they play off each other. Many of Iago’s soliloquies are highlights, as well as the death of Roderigo.
The worth in watching such a play? “When you see a play come to life in front of you, you understand what is going on. Shakespeare is full of verbiage, metaphor and poetry and is difficult to read and understand; but it is also just English. When you watch a play that is spoken with the rhythms that we use today, you realise it is completely understandable.
DARREN KING (BRABANTIO and GRATIANO)
What King values most of Othello is “that it is still relevant today”: “The key issues the play addresses are many, but it really deals with deceit and manipulation.”
Brabantio?: “Brabantio is the father of Desdemona. He is a well-loved and respected member of society. He is something of a fool and does bring a little cheer to the scenes he is in. His nicest quality is his love for his daughter. His worst is his intolerance.”
MICHEAEL GRITTEN (Duke of Venice)
Key aspects of the play? “No matter how powerful or together we may appear, our deepest, darkest fear will always trip us up.”
Views on the Duke of Venice? “The Duke represents the powers of order and stability, the status quo, standing against the onslaught of forces of change. His decision to overlook Othello’s elopement with Desdemona for the sake of national security opens the gates for the tragedy to unfold.”
What can you take from the play? “Know yourself and be honest and clear in communication, otherwise you can be manipulated with fear and lies to murder love, light and life.
DAISY SPENCER (Bianca)
With this production marking Spencer’s first professional production of Othello, she is most moved by Iago: “He represents everything I try to be aware of in my personal life. He represents all that is observant of the human condition, yet remains untouched by it.”
Tell us about Bianca. “She is a prostitute who is in love with Cassio, and is looking for love which she thinks Cassio can give her. Bianca’s nicest quality is her capacity for love. Her worst quality is being weak enough to let that love blind her.”
Thoughts on Shakespeare and the youth of today? “ The benefits of young learners seeing Othello are numerous. Whether we like it or not, the generation of today is very visual, because of things like TV and video games. Trying to get them to understand and appreciate Shakespeare without some sort of visual aid is silly. That is why seeing this play live will benefit young learners. There is nothing more palpable than feeling the emotions, or tension, drama, or comedy for real.”
ROWAN BARTLET (Montano)
One of the biggest life lessons to be gleaned from Othello? “Be careful who you trust, and beware of jealousy… Othello is quite sexy, not in a romantic sort of Romeo and Juliet kind of way – more raunchy. Also, Iago is so deliciously evil… Wonderful stuff!”
Tell us about your character. “I play Montano, Governor of Cyprus. He is a steady, dependable type. He has a fight with a drunk Cassio in the Second Act which leads to Cassio being demoted as lieutenant. His nicest quality is that he is honourable. His worst quality? It seems he was a terrible swordsman, Cassio beats me up. Embarrassing.
ADAM DORE (Lodovico)
Best aspects of the play? “Exposing the unsettling truth about how easily the human mind can be manipulated and distorted by those with Machiavellian intellect and amoral intent. One must remain vigilant and aware and not allow themselves to be duped and deceived.”
• Think Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Othello returns to the Playhouse Drama from today until March 12 and is presented in association with the Playhouse Company. Directed by Clare Mortimer, the production offers a valuable learning aid for secondary school pupils studying Shakespeare’s stage tragedy as a set work. Schools performances of Othello are at 9am and 12pm daily, Mondays to Fridays, with a public performance at 7pm on Thursday, February 29. Tickets cost R45 (R70 for adults attending the public performance). Bookings are through the show’s producer, Margie Coppen, at 083 251 9412.