Theatre Review: Othello

Posted on: 05 October 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Comedian Lenny Henry proves a revelation as a tragedian in his first major dramatic role as the anti-hero of Shakespeare’s Othello which has been reviewed in a blistering new West Yorkshire Playhouse production at the Trafalgar Studios in London.

Events are set in motion when Othello, a heroic Moorish general in the service of Venice, appoints Cassio and not Iago as his chief lieutenant. Jealous of Othello’s success and envious of Cassio, Iago plots Othello’s downfall by falsely implicating Othello’s wife Desdemona, and Cassio in a love affair.

With the unwitting aid of Emilia, his wife, and the willing help of Roderigo, a fellow malcontent, Iago carries out his plan. In brief Desdemona cannot produce a handkerchief once given to her by her husband; thanks to Iago’s machinations, it is later found among Cassio’s possessions. Overcome with jealousy, Othello kills Desdemona. When he learns, too late, that his wife is blameless, he asks to be remembered as one “who loved not wisely but too well” and kills himself.

Director Barrie Rutter gets right to the heart of Shakespeare’s monumental tragedy, fuelled by love, racism, envy and desire. This indeed is a clear, compelling reading of the play which is in effect a tender love story shattered by one man’s obsessive hatred of another.

But the fact that this production achieves such a powerful impact is largely due to the outstanding performance of Lenny Henry, who literally pours his heart and soul into the role of the brave and noble Othello, who allows himself to be duped by the evil and manipulative Iago, and his descent from majestic dignity to deluded rage is both totally credible and truly heartbreaking. Strong support is provided by Jessica Harris as the faithful Desdemona who defies her father to marry the Moor, Conrad Nelson as the treacherous puppet master Iago, fooling everyone into believing he is honest, yet planting suspicion wherever he goes, and Richard Standing as Cassio, a man who still has a crush on Desdemona.

In short then this poignant and intense production mercilessly explores every inch of the human condition and can certainly be regarded as a play for today.

By Laurence Green

Where: Trafalgar Studios, London

When: Plays for a limited period.

Box Office: Call 0870 060 6632 or book your tickets online by clicking here.

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