Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan debuts new comedy centred on an old villain

Skye Brandon (left) and Joshua Beaudry (right) perform in the world premiere of Daniel Macdonald's new play "Iago Speaks" produced by Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan. Photos taken August 4th, 2022. (Matt Olson)

One of Shakespeare’s most infamous villains takes the stage once more in a brand-new play produced by Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan (SOTS).

Iago Speaks, the upcoming SOTS play, is a comedy written by Saskatchewan playwright Daniel Macdonald. The play follows in the footsteps of Iago, the villainous mastermind in Shakespeare’s Othello.

Iago announces at the end of Othello that he will never speak again — and Macdonald used that as an opening to give a humourous face and voice to the multitude of Shakespeare’s side characters who never usually get the opportunity to speak at all.

“We’re not used to laughing out loud and tears rolling down our faces, but that has happened to all of us at various times,” he said.

Macdonald said looking into what happens to Iago — a rare Shakespeare villain who does not die at the end of the play — helped inspire the story. It wasn’t until he added the idea of The Jailor as Iago’s opposite that the comedy began to take shape.

“The Jailor represents every character in Shakespeare who walks on at the end with a sword or a spear and says nothing,” Macdonald said. “The Jailor is kind of all the people out there who don’t have a voice … and really want to say something.”

Previous SOTS festivals have typically played host to a pair of Shakespeare’s works which alternate throughout the summer run.

This year, SOTS produced one Shakespeare show — the lesser-known Cymbeline — and two Shakespeare-related works in Shakespeare’s Will and now Iago Speaks.

Skye Brandon, one of the interim festival curators for SOTS and the actor playing Iago, said it was “exciting” to continue exploring the company’s mandate and try something new at the same time.

“By doing new plays, Canadian plays, it’s just another group of stories that we as artists get to tell,” he said. “We get to talk about our relationship to Shakespeare at the same time as presenting his work.”

Brandon plays Iago across from Joshua Beaudry as The Jailor in this two-hander comedy. Both have extensive experience with Shakespeare plays and SOTS as a company in various roles.

Beaudry said it’s a different experience having the playwright in the rehearsal space — especially for SOTS, for obvious reasons. But he said being able to workshop and edit the show in real time during rehearsals is a tool they’re taking full advantage of.

“To be able to analyze moments … that’s something I’m sort of getting used to,” he said. “But each time we do, I think the show gets that much tighter, that much better, that much more clear.”

Brandon and Beaudry both said despite the inspiration drawing from one of Shakespeare’s most infamous villains, the show is most definitely a comedy.

And as Macdonald puts it, there’s no need to have any previous knowledge of Othello or Shakespeare to get a kick out of this new show. So for him, this is a world premiere of a play that will get the whole audience laughing.

“There’s a surprise every other minute,” Macdonald said. “There’s a lot of hijinks, a lot of physical comedy … there’s a lot of fun things going on this play.”

Iago Speaks premieres on August 6 and runs until August 21. Tickets can be purchased online at shakespearesask.com.

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