Conversations around race, misogyny and manipulation of the truth couldn’t be more relevant in the recent political landscape. Department of Theatre professor Brian Richmond felt it was important to bring these conversations to the stage and explore parallels between then and now through the 400 year-old classic tragedy, Othello. UVic’s Phoenix Theatre is honoured to present — for the first time in its 53-year history — Shakespeare’s Othello, from November 7 to 23.

Othello is the tale of two lovers from very different worlds: Othello, a mighty general from a foreign land, and Desdemona, a beautiful and compassionate senator’s daughter. Undeterred by prejudices, they marry; however, their love is put to the test when Othello’s trusted advisor, Iago, stokes the flames of jealousy and ruthlessly pushes the couple — and the world around them — to a tragic end. The story includes military maneuvering, political rivals, the spreading of malicious and racially charged lies, and backstabbing treachery.

Sound familiar?

As timely as now

With recent productions at prestigious institutions around the world — including the Royal Shakespeare Company (2015), Shakespeare’s Globe (2017) and Stratford Festival (2019) — it appears many theatre companies are also looking to Shakespeare as a way to help society make sense of current events.

“This play has much to tell us about the downfall of societies where there is inequity — whether racial or gender differences — or those who are exploited by false information,” says Richmond, who also directs the Phoenix production. “But it is also about ourselves: how do we react when we feel like the outcast? Where does our trust lie?”

Richmond is working with a talented creative team of professional and experienced upper-level students. The black on black, semi-industrial set, designed by fourth-year students Conor Farrell and Logan Swain, moves and rearranges effortlessly to create great halls, Venetian bridges, and private bedrooms. The costumes graphically play with the themes of black and white while clearly referencing period 17th century gowns and military uniforms.

Othello’s team of student designers (photo: Dean Kalyan)

Lighting designer, instructor and alumnus Michael Whitfield emphasizes both set and costumes through colour and shadow. Fourth-year student Olivia Wheeler brings original compositions and 17th century music to the stage for the overall sound design. And Jacques Lemay returns to the Phoenix this fall to direct the choreography and gruesome sword fight scenes.

The cast of Othello in action (photo: Dean Kalyan)

Professor Michael Elliott, who came to teach at UVic from Shakespeare’s Globe and the Royal Shakespeare Company, is assisting on his first production at the Phoenix as Voice and Text Coach. Fourth-year student Emma Jo Conlin is the Stage Manager.

Visiting guest lecturer

The Department of Theatre is also honoured to welcome Dr. Will Tosh, a guest lecturer and Research Fellow from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Dr. Tosh will present a free preshow lecture called “Othello at the Globe” at 7pm Friday Nov 8.

His lecture will take us back to 1600s London to discuss how Shakespeare’s diverse first audiences might have responded to Othello.  Dr. Tosh led the Indoor Performance Practice Project (2014-16), which examined playing in the candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe.

He will also give a free lecture about the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at 12:45pm on Thursday, Nov 7, at the Phoenix Theatre.

Performances for Othello:
Public Previews: 8pm Tuesday & Wednesday, Nov 5 & 6 (tickets just $8 after 5pm)

Opening Night: 8pm Thursday, Nov 7

Evenings: 8pm Tuesdays through Saturdays

Matinees: 2pm Saturdays, Nov 16 & 23

Tickets: $15 to $28 (depending on day), student rush $16 (30 minutes at the door)

Phoenix Box Office: open Monday through Saturday from noon to 8:30pm to Nov 23,
In person or charge by phone at (250) 721-8000.

Audience advisory: Othello has some coarse language, scenes of violence & domestic abuse. Ages 15 +