Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

cast of Desdemona

Sarah Colloby (left) as Emilia, Jane Wootton as Bianca and Rachael Skerrett as Desdemona

Desdemona, a play about a handkerchief

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


SO who was Desdemona? As far as Shakespeare was concerned she was the dutiful wife of Othello, in the background much of the time, unaware of all the plotting, treachery and general shenanigans going on around her.

In fact, the first she knows about it all is when hubby not only confronts her but strangles her in a rage for an affair with his loyal captain, Cassio, an affair she never had. The proof of her adultery being Desdemona’s handkerchief, a gift from Othello, Cassio had then given to his lover Bianca

From there it all descends into a bit of a bloodbath with Desdemona’s maidservant Emilia explaining to Othello his wife was innocent and telling how she had lost the handkerchief, so he kills her, messenger being a dangerous business in those days, and then wounds the treacherous Iago to ensure he lives his life in constant pain before topping himself. Ends. Curtain.

But in Paula Vogel’s play Desdemona would have been off back to Venice and her family the next morning had she not be strangled first and, although she was innocent of sleeping with Cassio, he was probably the only bloke on Cyprus she hadn’t had sex with.

This is Desdemona in the raw, as envisaged by Vogel, a young headstrong wife with a life of her own, who helps out at the local lust palace - horizontal services to the gentry a speciality – on Tuesday evenings.

The bordello is run by Cassio’s lover Bianca, who in Shakespeare’s version is a courtesan, and a scorned woman whose importance is much greater than her little time on stage. Here she has been promoted to Madame, sex on an industrial scale, running the house of ill repute and dreaming of marrying Cassio and having a little cottage by the sea.

We open with Desdemona turning the room upsibianca and desdemonade down having lost Othello’s gift – “Where is that crappy little snot rag” which is not quite how Shakespeare might have phrased it, but this is still Othello, so it is still essential to the plot.

Meanwhile Emilia, a handmaiden in Othello, has had a bit of a comedown, being more working class washer woman here than lady in waiting and innocently setting up her mistress at the behest of her husband Iago, who wants revenge after seeing Cassio promoted above him.

To be honest although Vogel’s play can stand alone, it is improved by a familiarity with Othello, or at least a quick glance at the plot to understand the nuances and references. There are only three women in Othello and they are the only three characters in Vogel’s play.

A cathouse catfight perhaps between Desdemona and Bianca, all over a "snot rag"

Sarah Colloby is Emilia, giving a fine performance in a complex part. She is both confidante and friend, and also servant, giving advice on one hand and taking orders on the other, loyal to both her mistress and her villainous husband Iago who, unbeknown to her is plotting against Cassio in a scheme that will also bring down Desdemona . . .  and half the other characters in Othello. It demands playing almost two parts in one which she manages well.

Rachael Skerrett, in her STAC debut, gives us an attractive, feisty, flighty Desdemona with what appears to be a passion for sex, all in a lovely matter of fact manner, blowing hot and cold in her relationship with Emelia and idolising Bianca. Her Tuesday nights are spent flat on her back in a dark room at Bianca’s bagnio for a succession of men from around the globe, and enterprise which she sees as travelling the world through sex – exotic journeys TripAdvisor strangely doesn’t seem to cover. She dreams of being a free woman like Bianca – free, of course, being a relative term in prostitution, referring more to attitude than price.

Emilia has no enthusiasm for the line of work though, even though at sixpence a time she could earn “a week’s wages in 20 minutes”.

Her view on sex was simply: “It’s enough trouble every Saturday night without going out looking for it.”

Larger than life though is Bianca, beautifully played by Jane Wootton, blousy, oozing raw sex and availability in equal measure, dressed to go on the pull . . .  and ready to undress at the drop of a hat, or perhaps, more accurately, wallet. A lovely perfromance.

For a renaissance brothel keeper she has some modern ideas as well, such as her “Wednesday Night Specials – half price for anything in uniform!”.  What next – Bang one get one free?

There is plenty of innuendo, and, sexual references as Desdemona and Bianca relate their exploits, with some gloriously funny lines to give an amusing and interesting view of the characters lurking in the background of Shakespeare’s Othello.

It is not as intense as Othello, nor does it have the wall to wall treachery, intrigue and tragedy, or indeed drama, but it never set out as that. It’s Desdemona’s final day – not that she knows it – and she is out to enjoy it in a fun play ideal for this studio setting. Directed by Janet Bright and Sue Hawkins it runs to 27-08-16.

Roger Clarke


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