Altar Girl, the play set at an underage house party and based on Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, is immersive theatre.
The audience files their way one-by-one down a creaking staircase into the Adina Treasury Tunnels, as ever an intriguing performance space. Seats line the long side of a shoebox-shaped stage and you watch characters group together and sometimes isolate each other on either side of it. There’s a partial wall midway and this allows you to feel like you are witnessing a cross-section of a house party from hell — at one point a character thuds her head on this wall despairingly, apparently out of the line of sight of the others on stage.
Jeni Bezuidenhout is the standout as Iago-equivalent Lara. She plays her character with cold-fire intensity that at times chills you to the bone, and at other times nearly makes you laugh out loud at the unabashed, Machiavellian deviousness of it all. Shamita Sivabalan takes on the Othello character; she is Ollie, a scholarship student who is in a loving relationship with Charlotte Watson's Dess (short for Desdemona). Both actors do an admirable job with characters that have essentially been designed as foils to Bezuidenhout’s much more ostentatious Lara.
Rory is a wholly fresh character created by writer Hannah Samuel (although Altar Girl does overtly compare Rory to the clown in Othello at one point). She is both naive and a non-innocent, and this feels like a much-needed spin on a character that could very easily have been another boring ingénue trope. Lucy Orr for the most part portrays this character with a compelling sort of vertiginousness, although the rush and breathlessness of her speaking patterns can become so overwhelming that some of her words are hard to make out.
Ash Dorman is an imposing figure on stage and is utterly convincing as both an object of conflicted desires as well as an aggressor, however, some of his character choices did not feel fully fleshed out.
This play features simulated sex scenes and so, is not a show for children. It is, however, the perfect show for young adults. I felt that the chief preoccupations of these later-years high-school characters, such as the ruthless ambition displayed by one of them to become ‘queen’, felt tonally quite in line with teen dramas such as Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars.
This loose adaptation is exactly the kind of English lesson antidote that makes a Shakespearean plot-line capable of inciting excitement in an adolescent audience, rather than listlessness.
Altar Girl will be playing until the 19th of March. You can purchase tickets here.