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 tragic 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.”
Where: Heath Ledger Theatre
When: August 17 to 20