Venue: The Octagon, Queens' Building, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Road, London E1 4NS
Boy meets girl, falls in love, kills her. It’s a story at least as old as Shakespeare’s Othello and with two women in the UK killed each week by their male partners — it couldn’t be more disturbingly topical. This new play tackles possessive jealousy and its fatal consequences. Othello stands trial at the Old Bailey for killing his ‘unfaithful’ wife. Murder or manslaughter? Should his time-honoured resort to a victimblaming defence trump her right to life?
Othello on Trial, the first play in a new youth theatre project, was piloted as a rehearsed reading in London in November 2014 and performed in Melbourne, Australia in March 2015. Emphasising the critical importance of primary prevention and attitudinal change, the project aims to stimulate debate about continuing high levels of violence against women focusing on men’s culturally-embedded excuses for killing their women partners — she was unfaithful, she disobeyed her husband, she left him.
Othello on Trial takes a novel approach to promoting discussion. It weaves scenes from Othello, Shakespeare’s play featuring an ‘infidelity’-inspired wife killing, with excerpts from historic and contemporary trials of English wife killers.
Act 1 addresses the pivotal race question in Shakespeare’s Othello. Showcasing provocation by infidelity as a deeply ingrained cultural excuse sanctioned by law for English wife-killers, Act 2 substitutes a white for a black Othello and puts him on trial for murder at the Old Bailey. A judge and the defendant enact a courtroom drama with a prosecutor and defence lawyer (played by black Othello from Act 1) who take their arguments verbatim from trial records. The audience take the role of jurors. Their deliberations become Act 3 of the play which doubles as an open forum to discuss whether loss of control due to extreme jealousy or possessiveness should mitigate murder today.
Dr Adrian Howe, Adjunct Research Fellow, Socio-Legal Studies Centre, Griffith University, Australia and Visiting Fellow, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London.
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