For Better of for Worse

Clare Bayley

…Theatre-on-Podol’s Iago is a more sophisticated enterprise, from a mature company which has been performing Shakespeare for more than a decade. It was an actor, Anatoly Khostikoev, who conceived the idea after playing Othello at the National Theatre in Kiev. The production was not a success and Khostikoev felt more affinity for Iago than his own character, as the director Vitaly Malakhov explains. “What we are presenting is principally the play of Othello, with some pieces cut and some new situations added. We wanted to look at it from Iago’s point of view, to find out what is happening what we don’t normally see. It’s a way of changing the perspective.” The most striking departure from the Shakespeare is the casting: Khostikoev as Iago is a huge, handsome, charismatic bear of a man, while Vladimir Kouznetsov as Othello is a little, trim bureaucrat. The sympathies of the audience switch palpably to Iago, and from the outset the bias of the play is changed. Add to this a blithe disregard of the racial theme, and the fact that the production takes place in and around the Infirmary street swimming pool, and Shakespeare’s play is almost unrecognizable.
It’s relatively easy for Theatre-on-Podol to reclaim Iago as a tragic hero, but is it more than a textual experiment? “None of us wants to be bad,” Malakhov explains. “But it happens that characters like Iago come from somewhere. Shakespeare wrote that Cassio is a bad officer that he’s never been at war; he’s a drunkard and a womanizer. Yet he is promoted, Iago is not. It seems to me that God is not being fair. Iago tries to make things fair, that’s all. There are a lot of reasons why people kill each other, as we know – envy, different religions, love. Perhaps we will never understand each other. But we can try.”