Richard Lutz reviews a classic take on Shakespeare’s tragedy about jealousy, race and deceit
You don’t expect Othello to begin with jokes and cheeky asides. But it does. And the actor who really pulls it off, and ultimately steals the show about The Moor, is Lucian Msamati as a conniving Iago.
His portrayal as Othello’s devious right hand man is of a clever, manipulative operator driven by a dangerous anger. He is convinced that he has been left behind in the pecking order. And he clocks every time a racial slur is aimed at him or Othello. He is bent on revenge. He will use the most deceptive of lies and dirty tricks to get his rivals out of the way, even if that means Othello killing his innocent young wife Desdemona in a jealous rage.
The play, directed by Iqbal Khan at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford, keeps coming back to the race issue. In this multi-ethnic cast, soldiers bloodily rumble when the white Cassio greedily grabs the spotlight with a rap song. Black and white blood is spilled and Iago cunningly uses it to build his murderous plans.
Hugh Quarshie is a rock solid title character descending into a jealous madness overlaid with epileptic fits while Iago buzzes and schemes around him. Joanna Vanderham, a youthful Desdemona in her debut RSC role, elegantly uses the stage well as she unknowingly becomes part of Iago’s scheme to cripple Othello with the green-eyed monster over an illusory love affair.
Hats off to Ciaran Bagnall for his set and lighting with backdrop after backdrop falling away from the audience to create depth in this haunting but ultimately angry play about murderous intent and murderous rage.
Until 28th August. Tickets https://www.rsc.org.uk/