Benedict Nightingale sees East beat West in fantasy’s league

Benedict Nightingale

Some have said no theatrical event has made much of a splash at the Edinburgh festival this year. They are reckoning without Iago, the adaptation of Othello that a group called Theatre-in-Podol has brought from Kiev. This begins with Desdemona diving into a pool and swimming her length while her husband fondly watches, and ends with the villain and the hero, manacled together, toppling into the water with a tragic splatter. Even the programme is an embossed hand-towel, as it needs to be. Vitaly Malakhov’s production is set round and often in Infirmary Street. Follow the smell of chlorine and the humid air, take a poolside seat, and you are in for an odd, original treat. Anatoly Khostikoev’s Iago expresses triumph by hurling a plastic table into the water and celebrates destruction by send half-a-dozen chairs after it. Cassio’s drunk-scene culminates in angry horseplay which leaves Roderigo half-drowned. Desdemona frolics like a dolphin while Iago is poisoning her husband’s mind on a tiny jetty, and Othello momentarily joins her for a fast dip.
I can imagine casting Paul Raymond as Petruchio, Germaine Greer as Katherina, and setting The Shrew on Concorde, but I’m blessed if I see the purpose of this. Very occasionally a line fits – Roderigo very nearly fulfils this promise incontinently to drown himself – but scarcely enough to justify the approach. What it proves is, I suppose, that Shakespeare can be performed anywhere, in any language, and still exercise a grip, if the actors know their job, as these Ukrainian fish-people emphatically do.Khostikoev’s Iago has a weird, woozy affection for his victims, and Vladimir Kouznetsov’s slim, severe and (another twist) white Othello is equally strong, especially in the extremes of grief. That the action mostly occurs at the shallow end is not symbolic.