Shakespeare’s Globe, London until 13 October 2018
Shakespeare took a particular delight, it seems to me, in investigating great men who by an intrinsic fault in their personality bring about their own downfall: Coriolanus and the bond with his mother; Macbeth’s relationship with his wife and his over-weaning ambition coupled with a surprisingly lively conscience. And Othello, a man who “loved not wisely but too well”, whose love, stirred up by the impatient and resentful NCO, Iago, brings about his own downfall.
Othello though has one over-riding element that the others do not have to combat. And that is being the outsider, the non-white in a sea of white supremacy. Thus much the play makes plain and Claire van Kampen’s Globe production spells this out even further with an Othello who brings on stage not only the imprimatur of African heritage but American tones in a pre-dominantly PC sounding British cast.
André Holland, therefore, stands out as an outsider although, curiously, this Othello is not, as in so many previous productions, physically dominant. Holland does it rather with verbal authority, a clear clarity of diction and quiet, persuasive tones that nonetheless exert their own sense of self-assured leadership.
Holland is one of the successes of a production that comes and goes in fits and starts. It starts off at a hectic pace with Mark Rylance’s Iago constantly on the move prowling around the Globe stage followed by Steffan Donnelly’s Rodrigo attempting to keep up some contact with him.
Rylance’s Iago is a strange non-event in certain senses: he gabbles, he delivers his lines often in a monotone as though anxious to get to the real nitty-gritty of the piece, the dropping of suspicion, bit by nonchalant bit into Othello’s ear of Desdemona’s infidelity with his second-in-command, Cassio (Aaron Pierre).
Van Kampen’s production is altogether a busy affair as if afraid to lose its audience who nonetheless gave it their full, unstinting attention, cheering the production at the end with ecstatic enthusiasm.
And being the musician she is, there are moments of pure musical joy as she summons up a riotous Cypriot knees-up (which sounded strangely Italianate to these ears!) before Cassio falls foul of the demon drink and is banished.
© Simon Anand, the company, in Cyprus. Music by Claire van Kampen
Rylance has some of his best scenes as the plot begins to thicken and such is the headlong collapse of Othello’s world that it would, indeed, be a hard heart not to ultimately feel a pang as Holland administers the fatal coup de grace on Jessica Warbeck’s Desdemona (if hidden from view for some of us behind a pillar as is also her crucial scene with her friend and confidante, Emilia, Iago’s wife, (the striking Sheila Atim) – and his genuine remorse.
© Simon Anand, the striking Sheila Atim as Emilia, Iago’s wife, too late coming to the realisation of his destructive part in Othello and Desdemona’s story…
There is, of course, a contemporary pull to the Globe’s productions these days with multi-racial and gender-swapping casting with the Doge of Venice and other officials played by some of the female actors who also double-up as Chorus and girl-friends. So some of the patriarchal echoes running through Othello, as in Merchant of Venice, don’t quite make it through van Kampen’s directorial sieve although the misogyny, particularly of Rylance’s Iago and to an extent, Cassio, comes over loud and clear.
Overall, then, Van Kampen’s production is a bold, zippy, lively affair that slips neatly into today’s sensibilities, underlining its message of the destructiveness of jealousy, the violent potential of unfulfilled ambition and the abuse of women.
The Globe itself, despite its problematic sidelines for those not sitting dead centre and the discomfort of the seating, continues to be the main attraction. There is still a liveliness, interactiveness and audience concentration it attracts that is unmatched by any other London venue. No wonder actors love playing it. And no wonder young audiences are drawn to it like moths to a flame. Long may it continue.
by William Shakespeare
Emilia: Sheila Atim
Bianca/Doge of Venice: Catherine Bailey
Brabantio/Montano: William Chubb
Roderigo: Steffan Donnelly
Othello: André Holland
Chorus: Micah Loubon
Chorus: Ira Mandela Siobhan
Cassio: Aaron Pierre
Iago: Mark Rylance
Chorus: Clemmie Sveaas Lodvico: Badria Timimi
Desdemona: Jessica Warbeck
Band Leader/Cornett/Trumpet: Adrian Woodward
Percussion: Emma Arden
Percussion: Beth Higham-Edwards
Cornett/Trumpet: Darren Moore
Director & Composer: Claire van Kampen
Designer: Jonathan Fensom
Choreographer: Antonia Franceschi
Music Director: Bill Barclay
Fight Directors: Rachel Bown-Williams & Ruth Cooper-Brown of Rc-Annie Ltd
Globe Associate – Text: Giles Block
Globe Associate – Movement: Glynn McDonald
Globe Associate – Voice: Martin McKellan
Assistant Director: Cat Robey
Deputy Text Associate: Christine Schmidle
Costume Supervisor: Lorraine Ebdon-Price
Wigs, Hair & Make-Up: Carole Hancock for HUM
First perf of this production of Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe, Southwark, London, July 20, 2018.
Runs to Oct 13, 2018
Review published on this site, August 2, 2018
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