Who would have thought that the most notorious and intriguing Shakespearean villain could be in a play that is uproariously funny?
Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan’s world premiere of Iago Speaks captures comedy like no other and still manages to present fascinating commentary on language, purpose and Shakespeare.
Iago Speaks begins after the events of Othello, when the villain has been imprisoned and has vowed “from this time forth I never will speak word.” Spoiler alert: Iago speaks in this show, although he manages not to speak for the first thirty minutes. Iago (Skye Brandon) is silent and brooding while The Jailor (Joshua Beaudry) takes centre stage. The main character of the production is in fact Iago’s jailer.
The story follows The Jailor’s search for meaning and purpose as a side character, and he functions as a representative for all the “bit” roles within Shakespeare’s work.
It also dips into the popular realm of meta theatre when The Jailor becomes aware of the audience and is able to represent the audience’s journey and ask pertinent questions about Shakespearean plays. Why do all tragedies end the same? If someone is killed, how do they still have air to speak or sing if they don’t have air to live? And what on earth is The Jailor’s name?
In the midst of the meta silliness, this story of absurdity manages to be absurdly funny. Daniel Macdonald’s script provides ample room for the actors to thrive. Beaudry commands the comedy with his physicality, propensity towards silliness, and grounded character. The chuckles are constant and his antics lead to several laugh-out-loud moments that had the sold out performance on Saturday’s opening night howling. It also boasts the best play-within-a-play that has ever been staged.
Brandon provides ample contrast to Beaudry’s ridiculousness by playing an Iago with brooding gravitas. He eloquently answers the implied questions of why Shakespeare is so difficult to understand with a speech that is a love letter to language. The Jailor, along with many others who watch or study Shakespeare, asks Iago why he takes “eighteen words to say three!” Brandon performs a brilliant speech on the imperfect ability of human beings to put thoughts into words.
Both Beaudry and Brandon gave incredible performances, but Beaudry had more opportunity to shine. There is a particular scene where Beaudry interacts with an individual in the audience that left everyone in stitches of laughter. But together, the two actors to produce a most ridiculous fight scene — and never has the concept of brutally murdering someone been so humorous.
There are brief moments within the play that move slower than others. There is a portion that recaps the plot and ending of Hamlet, which feels unnecessary given the previous context provided. While the play could serve to be slightly briefer, this is a minor complaint.
Overall, the script flows well. The ending in particular is filled with wit and humour, and it ties the story together neatly respecting the audience’s intelligence and allowing them to put the pieces together.
A wonderful part of this production is that you need not know anything about Shakespeare to enjoy or understand the story. This is an accessible play that provides all the details necessary for understanding and speaks in a modern tongue. It’s a brilliant way to dip a toe into the realm of Shakespeare in a humorous, entertaining, and grounded fashion.
Iago Speaks is a resounding success, and work of the actors, playwright, director, and all production team prove that there is an expanse beyond Shakespearean classics that can be explored. Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan has found a new and exciting way to think about, talk about, and perform Shakespeare, and this play should not be missed.
Iago Speaks runs from August 6 until August 21. Tickets can be purchased online at shakespearesask.com.