For he’s a tragic Othello

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Theatre - Tanya MacNaughton

MEL­BOURNE-based ac­tor Ray Chong Nee is fa­mil­iar with some of the emotions felt by Shake­speare’s Othello, but thank­fully not all of them.

“I’ve been privy to the jeal­ousy; to fall head over heels in love with some­one, to then have your heart shat­tered where the world crum­bles and you feel like you just have noth­ing to live for,” Chong Nee said.

“I would never get to the point where mur­der enters my brain, but he’s just a man who is un­for­tu­nately ma­nip­u­lated to kill the one thing he loves in the world.”

Born in Samoa, Chong Nee lived in New Zealand be­fore mov­ing with his fam­ily to Queens­land in 1994 at age 11. Bell Shake­speare gave him his big break with the 2014 role of Oberon in The Dream and Chong Nee has re­turned to the com­pany for one of Shake­speare’s great­est char­ac­ters.

“I think now more so than ever it is a poignant story, not just in our po­lit­i­cal cli­mate in Aus­tralia but also in Amer­ica,” he said.

“There is so much fo­cus put on ‘the other’ or per­son from a dif­fer­ent back­ground and that can di­vide peo­ple or bring peo­ple to­gether.”

Di­rec­tor Peter Evans has con­tem­po­rised the pro­duc­tion with cos­tume and lan­guage choices, sup­plant­ing some words, but not all of them.

The set repli­cates a de­sign akin to The Globe Theatre in Lon­don, plac­ing it in a neu­tral set­ting and us­ing open space so the au­di­ence fo­cus is on the ac­tors and script.

Evans has also cho­sen to use Chong Nee’s her­itage, trans­lat­ing a small part of the script into Samoan.

“It made this play specif­i­cally an Aus­tralasian Othello rather than a Euro­pean one,” Chong Nee said.

“There are just a few words I say and it’s at the mo­ment where Othello’s mind is dis­in­te­grat­ing; he goes back to his nat­u­ral tongue and of course au­di­ences won’t nec­es­sar­ily know what I’m say­ing but the ef­fect is more im­por­tant.”

He said de­spite many pro­duc­tions keep­ing Othello an hon­ourable man after his crime, this was not one of them.

“He has a so­lil­o­quy at the end which says ‘Then must you speak. Of one that loved not wisely, but too well’,” he said.

“This man has killed a woman and there is no hon­our in what he’s done.

“Hon­our killings still hap­pen and there is no more hon­our left in him, even though his speech is grandiose.”

Ray Chong Nee

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