Students smash gender swapped Othello

13th December 2023

Performing Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon is a regular occurrence; with the town being the birthplace of the world-famous bard. However, Stratford-upon-Avon College treated audiences to a new and haunting version of one of the playwright’s most famous tragedies as they took us to a female prison for a fully gender swapped imaging of Othello.

othello cast

Setting the play in a women’s prison allowed us to witness politics, manipulation and raw emotions in an intimate setting. The Gordon’s Vallin’s Theatre was simply set, with raised staging round the back and sides of the performance area to create the prison gantries and a table which was used as a pool table, canteen bench and bed. Though the concept of the play was new, the production harked back to Shakespeare’s day by using simple settings; allowing the words and drama to take centre stage.

However, unlike an Elizabethan production, audiences were treated to a spectacle of light which created suspense, drama and intrigue whilst also reflecting the mental and emotional turmoil of the main character, Othello. Olly Haywood, Backstage Production Arts student, operated the stunning display, supported by Tilly Sherton as the Deputy Stage Manager.

The superb lighting created tension, intrigue and drama

The Acting students performed an edited script to shorten the performance to fit into an hour, this ensured the show was pacy and direct. To help keep the flow, Freddy Gresham, who played Emilio, also took on a role as a narrator, again harking back to classic Shakespeare plays with a clown character, allowing him to comment, sometimes humorously, on the unfolding action.

The fantastic Freddy Gresham as Emilio also narrated the story

The cast also used a variety of performance styles to convey the story. The opening of the show was a movement piece introducing the characters and the atmosphere; engaging audiences instantly. Throughout the performance, students used physical theatre, dance and even fight choreography to show the anger and drama of the piece. A testament to the talent of the performers to showcase the range of skills needed; balancing Shakespearean text and physical performance.

Eve Bannon is a powerhouse on stage, showing excellent use of the text and holding a commanding stage presence. Daisy Hemming moved from humorous to rage with ease, Olivia Coltman and Rosie Ward likewise show great dexterity of performance in their multi-roling.

Top left Eve Bannon, top right Daisy Hemming, bottom left Rosie Ward and bottom right Olivia Coltman

Corgan Holloway-Jones took on the role of Desdamono, the love interest of Othello. The emotion and sincerity shown added gravitas to his relationship with Othello. Katherine Davies played Iago, the master manipulator of the story. Her performance was striking and was a powerful presence, even in the shadows.

Corgan Holloway-Jones left and Katherine Davies right

Then we get to the titular character, Othello. Played by Shania Hayles, we see a strong woman who completely embodies a leader. Her tragic downfall and spiralling into jealous rage is confidently shown vocally and physically and her stage presence is explosive.

Shania Hayles
Shania Hayles stunned as Othello

It is always wonderful to watch a play that is engaging and exciting and this production was that and more. Just as Iago made a net to enmesh them all, this production had the audience under its spell. Congratulations to cast and crew.

Check out some production photos

Find out more about the College’s Performing & Production Arts courses: SUAC Onstage