• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Fringe 2023: Hello, The Hell: Othello

ByNaomi Wallace

Aug 7, 2023
Woman in white dress rests head on man wearing all black

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s Othello knows that its ending is far from beautiful, instead tainted with ugly violence and tragedy. Hello, the Hell: Othello, Korean company Jakhwa’s physical theatre production allowed grace and beauty to seep into the flesh of the original play, all the while elevating and exposing the intense brutality of its conclusion. Set millions of years after the murder of Desdemona, centring on the endless torture Iago and Othello are experiencing in the afterlife, this production is the most unique and pleasantly surprising show I have seen at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival thus far.

One cannot imagine a better venue for this show than the magnificent Assembly Rooms BallRoom. The dissonance between the exquisite interior and the set, that spared no expense in presenting its version of hell, perfectly mirrored the tone of the production itself- simultaneously bewitching and horrifying. The stage was inundated with red rags, a powerful materialisation of the fateful handkerchief that sends the events of Othello hurtling towards disaster. The set design predominantly consisted of various shades of red and brown, which transposed into the costumes of Iago and Othello, as can be expected from a depiction of hell, but it was clear this served an additional purpose when Desdemona graced the stage in a flowing, divine white dress, like a displaced angel. There was something incredibly emotive about this visual encapsulation of the tragic innocence of the character, that made me want to weep for her.

The show was performed in Korean, but subtitles made it reasonably easy to follow. There were points at which the English subtitles did not communicate a clear meaning, but this was a sparing issue, and you could gage the meaning from context and knowledge of the original Othello. And I cannot make this minor criticism without adding that I absolutely commend the ability and effort it takes to translate an entire Fringe show to accommodate English speakers.

Much of the show fixes upon the scene in Shakespeare’s play in which Othello suffocates his wife Desdemona, with the lines lifted directly from the original play. It was harrowing to see it played out over and over again, and the use of the art of dance to portray it moved me in a way the scene, that I have seen and read infinite times, never has before. The rest of the script was constructed around this, and Othello’s reflections on his actions in the afterlife. I was impressed by how well they were able to make the shift between Shakespeare’s text and the new script feel so natural; if you were someone who didn’t know the play back to front like me, I truly believe that at points the switch would not be discernible! As previously mentioned, the show was in Korean, but I was entirely engrossed in the performance through the cadence of the actors’ line delivery and the emotion that fuelled their speech. The physical theatre and dance elements transcended the language barrier and were utterly stunning interpretations of the narrative.

A Korean rendition of Desdemona’s willow song from the original play was a highlight, sung by an ethereal, off-stage voice and accompanied by delicate strings. Anyone who knows Othello knows how crucial and anticipated this song is and it did not disappoint here. Across the entire production, music was key in creating atmosphere, particularly as so much of the performance was dance-based, and it was certainly successful. Swept up in the music, I could not take my eyes off the stage for a moment.

Hello, The Hell: Othello is breathtakingly beautiful, compelling, and haunting, and a genuinely new interpretation of a globally known play. All I can say is thank you to the team behind it for bringing it to us at the Fringe. If you want to be transported for an hour, out of the bustle and chaos of the Fringe Festival and into the vivid world of a Shakespearean afterlife, I highly recommend giving this a go.

Hello, The Hell: Othello is on at Assembly Rooms BallRoom at 1:40pm. Tickets available here: https://assemblyfestival.com/whats-on/hello-the-hell-othello

Image provided to The Student as press material.

By Naomi Wallace

Welfare Officer