Othello Director’s Note

Duncan Moore writes:

My introduction to Othello was walking into the living room where my older brother was watching a TV broadcast of a stage production. Onscreen was scene 5.2, in which Othello kills Desdemona. At the time I was a lippy, anti-Shakespeare teenager and so I merely dissed the production and did not admit the powerful effect the scene had on me.

Fast forward to adulthood, and Othello became the Shakespeare play I really wanted to direct. Upon first reading, its misogyny jumped out at me. Maybe my take on it was strongly influenced by that first introduction, but for me the play is chiefly about how some men irrationally fear and hate women. Yes, Othello is also a play about racism, but I see it as a play about how women are treated: at its most basic level, it’s a play in which two husbands murder their wives.

Even before #MeToo and #TimesUp – movements which have brought these issues into sharp focus and which have provided us with a wealth of examples to draw on (e.g. the recent Presidents Club horrors) – we were pursuing this take for our production, set in modern-day Britain. Why this setting? Because racism and misogyny are prevalent here. If they weren’t, hate crime would not have risen by 57% in the four days after the EU referendum. If they weren’t, an estimated 6,000 girls would not currently be being sexually exploited in gangs across the UK. If they weren’t, Reker Ahmed, a young asylum seeker, would not have been attacked and left for dead on 31 March 2017 by a 30-strong mob, simply for being a refugee. If modern-day Britain was not misogynistic, more than 113 women would not have been killed by men in 2016 alone. Two-thirds of these, just like Desdemona and Emilia, were murdered by their partners.

So when you watch this play, be aware that its narrative is not dated; that Shakespeare’s heroines stand for women from this day and age. Women such as Stacey. In 2014, Stacey mentioned to her friend Angie that she didn’t think a guy Angie knew – who was in a gang – was very nice. Angie reported this to the guy in question, so he rounded up three mates and together they gang-raped Stacey after school. Then they rang more friends who also came and joined the attack: nine of them in total, all assaulting one girl for the ‘crime’ of one ‘offensive’ remark.

The real crime is the fact that what you see tonight is happening tonight, for real. Women are still being silenced, slandered, sexually harassed and slaughtered. Shakespeare’s play, written over 400 years ago, is tragically more pertinent than ever.