The Bard in trunks

Claire Armitstead

   One of Theatre-on Podol’s biggest assets is an actor who looks like a cross between Arnie Schwarzeneger and Alan Bates. In Iago this Ukrainian swimming company’s swimming pool reworking of Othello, Arnie dominates. Anatoly Khostikoev moulds the play around his vision of Iago, a hulk of sexuality and smouldering resentment who nearly rapes a pubescent Desdemona as she dries herself after a swim, and who later lifts a puny, white Othello by his braces and carries him to the pool to cool him off. Water, in this radical reworking, represents powerlessness and sexuality. Othello and Desdemona splash around in it, the warring factions fight in it. Only Iago remains dry until the final scene, when he is dragged under the Othello’s corpse. Whereas there is a sense, in Iago, of a good idea that has not yet been worked through, there are no such problems with the company’s Dream, which again majors on sexuality. Strap-on breastplates, moulded in exaggerated sexual contours, become emblems of the erotic fixation released by the scattering of scarlet flowers. It’s funny and accomplished work. When the mechanicals transform their performance of Pyramus and Thisbe into a parody of Titania’s dream, the outraged reaction of the court makes a shrewd point about the subversiveness of the imagination and the limits of artistic freedom.