Sunday, June 16

Hello, The Hell: Othello – Assembly Rooms

Love. Murder. Regret. Agony. Love. Murder. Regret. Agony. Love…

The repetition of his crime is something Othello fights with every fibre of his being as he faces aeons of punishment in hell. While he is tortured by nightmares, trapped and riddled with pain if he leaves his cage / shrine, Iago somehow roams freely, able to torment him even further.

With Desdemona, these antagonists play out scenes of the past and of how Othello wishes to change it. The focused performances are supported by often dramatic music, while costume and lighting colours of red, black, white and gold are striking across a floor of red cloths with just a few hints of white. Knotted hangings form Othello’s cell and other restrictions within the space, completely filled by performers’ movements, which draw on traditional performance techniques and are mesmerising.

Each element of this evocatively-lit and stylised piece has been thought through in detail that is immersed within the characters’ stories and deeply rooted in Shakespeare’s play. The show is in Korean, but surtitles provide the English of Shakespeare’s lines and the production’s additions.* Little watcher’s queries and doubts were answered and directorial decisions well justified as the piece unfolded. Recorded lines for the beginning which were not always clear became so and in a way that was very satisfying – including direct speech – and the initial frustration turned out to be in keeping with the story unfolding and Othello’s predicament. The floor coverings, as well as conjuring up flames of hell, sea waves, and pools of blood, proved to be made up of a crucial element in Desdemona and Othello’s story, an important part of how Iago made the much-vaunted and deeply-in-love general believe his young wife was unfaithful to him.

While the overall pace of the piece does not change greatly, in the end it suits the nature of Othello’s grinding punishment and there are enough changes of scene and movement patterns to make sure that repetition does not actually pall. The quality and consistency of the world created and of the performances is of an excellent standard and this iteration of hell, steeped in both Shakespeare’s work and Korean philosophy invites thoughts on what hells we ourselves might create or how we would try to stop never-ending punishment, rooting for Othello along the way.

Is there a way out?

‘Hello, the Hell: Othello’ is an impressive production that marries English drama with Korean culture in a beautiful presentation of skill which is elegant, entrancing and thought-provoking.

* Please note: the lowest surtitle text line was not always fully visible to those seated in the front couple of rows. 

Reviewer: Danielle Farrow

Reviewed: 12th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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