Skip to content


Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief
Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief
Published on Thursday, 08 August 2013

3 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
5, 9 Aug, 10:20am-11:35am; 7 Aug, 2:20pm-3:35pm; 8 Aug, 12:20pm-1:35pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Recommended for age 16+ only.

Being FringeGuru's resident Shakespeare specialist, I've seen a lot of it – so I know that the Bard did write some amazing strong female characters. Desdemona is not one of them. Desdemona has frustrated and enraged me since the tenth grade, and I spent the majority of my studies of Othello screaming at her simpering, apologetic dialogues. Unfortunately, Paula Vogel's 1994 play Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief does her very few favours, even if she does get a bit of a backbone. It makes for very entertaining viewing, nonetheless; if you're a Shakespeare fan you should see this play at least once in your life, and the International Collegiate Theatre Festival group does a good job with the material, though some problems with timing mean they it’s a solid performance rather than an exceptional one.

If you've never heard of Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, you're missing out on one of the seminal feminist interpretations of Shakespeare. It's a reimagining of Othello's Venice where Desdemona has slept with Othello's entire encampment (and isn't shy about proclaiming it!), Bianca is the town's resident successful prostitute, and Emilia is Emilia, but Irish. The three women take centre stage and the audience is treated to bawdy tales of their sexual escapades. There's a fantastic exchange between Desdemona and Emilia discussing Iago's measurements, and to a person that has read Othello numerous times, it’s hilariously suggestive that Iago has overcompensation issues.

The ICTF's production of it is fairly by-the-book, and not adapted much from the original. As such, it's probably a good one to pick if you've never seen the play before; otherwise, it's a good production but not too revolutionary. The performances were strong, if a little one dimensional at times. Perhaps this is more the fault of the play itself than the actors, but Bianca managed to be complex and intriguing, where Desdemona was bitchy and wooden. Emilia was fabulous, however, and the Irish accent was flawless.

The real problem I had with this production was the flow of it – or rather the lack thereof. The changeovers between scenes were awkward and occasionally far too long. There were unnecessary stops in the play that could have been avoided to save time. They were so frequent that I became extremely frustrated, and it impacted greatly upon my enjoyment of the show.

So, I'm all for producing the original text as is, but the technical side has to be flawless for it to be memorable. Unfortunately, the ICTF's stage direction and timing let the performances down, and I'm not convinced that people will be remembering it months from now. Still, I'm glad this play is getting some attention at this year's Fringe; I'd rather have a bitchy, privileged brat of a Desdemona than the drab one that Shakespeare gave us.

<< Chaucer: Hold Up Your Tal...   The Alleycats: Contempora... >>

About our star ratings

We've changed our rating system for this year.

Find out more >>

Follow our reviews!

RSS Subscribe to RSS
Twitter Follow us on Twitter

Editor's Blog

We're blogging this month about the ethics and practice of arts reviewing at the Fringe.  Come and join the discussion.

Visit the blog >>