Friday, June 12, 2015

'Othello' by William Shakespeare

12 June 2015

On Thursday we were at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see the new RSC production of 'Othello', directed by Iqbal Khan, with Hugh Quarshie as Othello and Lucian Msamati as Iago. The production has attracted attention for casting two black actors in the leading roles. Having a black Iago – and a mixture of ethnic backgrounds throughout the cast – alters the focus of the play, making the jealousies and rivalries less racially motivated and more personal. But the real achievement of the production – and its cast – is to make the audience believe in the characters and almost forget the innovative casting (which also includes a female Duke of Venice). Hugh Quarshie initially plays a very cool, laid-back Othello, with a confident swagger and a few impressive dance moves. But Iqbal Khan's production reminds us that he is also a trained soldier, capable of brutal violence, making his descent into lethal rage all the more believable. The production's contemporary setting emphasises the violent reality of war, with uncomfortable scenes of water-boarding and torture (surely the first 'Othello' to feature pliers, electric drill and blowtorch). Designer Ciaran Bagnall has created an amazing set that makes good use of the unique facilities of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Venice is conjured up in the opening scenes with Iago and Rodrigo sailing a gondola along a real canal flowing through the middle of the stage. Lucian Msamati is wonderful as Iago – brash, funny, michievous, vicious and scheming – you really can't take your eyes off him. Joanna Vanderham is a tall, statuesque Desdemona, towering over Othello in her heels and bouffant hair. She brings a very young, wide-eyed enthusiasm to the role – the considerable age difference with her husband giving another angle to his jealousy.

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