Sunday, February 26, 2012


In a marvellous collision of unlikely events, a Russian theatre group has been staging Othello here in Bishkek at the same time as I've been teaching it to my 11-12 class. Despite the fact that it was performed in archaic Russian, I was determined to get my students to it; most of them have never even seen a stage performance of any sort, as the TCK life doesn't exactly lend itself to the pursuit of artistic cultural experiences. So, we all went along tonight, and I'm very glad of it!

Othello himself wasn't black, which was disappointing, but we decided that the proportion of black, dramatically inclined, native Russian speakers would be very small indeed, and forgave them this infraction. The casting was very good: Othello was sensual, commanding, noble; Iago was bold, arrogant, manipulative; Desdemona was fair, Emilia was brassy and loveable, and Cassio was the very picture of blond Slavic charm. They were first-rate actors, and the production, despite taking place in a rundown plush theatre, was full of imaginative touches. The set, for instance, was composed of a piece of netting that could be raised and lowered from the ceiling and five black blocks that were combined in thrilling ways that a conventional and far more expensive set could not have achieved; they were particularly effective as mirrors for Othello's changing state of mind. The costumes had Russian touches, too, with fur and heels and leather. Othello wore a headpiece like a pirate's bandanna, and Iago wore a tunic like a nineteenth century Russian peasant. There were drums and native dance at the start, intimating Othello's exotic origins, and at various points cast members would finish their parts and pick up the spotlights at the front of the stage, and becoming the lighting masters. It was really magnificent, all the more so given the limited resources available to theatre-makers in Bishkek (as I've discovered in recent experiences).

It's the first decent live performance I've seen for over a year, and I'm profoundly and surprisedly satisfied by it. The kids were pretty intrigued - most of them - and many of them had Russian language enough to be able to experience it properly. Their next task is to write a critical review and then perform a section of the play in the groups I allotted them. 

When I visit home to Australia in July, I'm going to see every performance, of any sort, that I can possibly manage. I realised tonight that I'm starved for theatre, music, dance. If you're a Melbournite, and you know me well enough to know what I love, then go ahead and book me in for any cultural experiences in July and August! I will owe you a debt of gratitude, which I shall pay back in felt goods and plov dishes.

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