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Othello

  • Theatre, Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare's Globe, South Bank
Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2024
Photo: Johan Persson
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Time Out says

Ola Ince’s overambitious take on Shakespeare’s tragedy gets bogged down in two different high concepts

Reframing ‘Othello’ as a police procedural in which Shakespeare’s Moorish general is a high-ranking officer at the Met is an inspired notion from director Ola Ince. It injects a note of campy, thrillery fun into what tends to be a rather dour play. And the Met’s dismal record on race feels like the perfect way to dig into the themes of the tragedy. 

For half an hour or so it zips by: there’s a neat montage scene at the start in which we’re quickly introduced to Ken Nwosu’s Othello and Poppy Gilbert as his wife, Desdemona. I wasn’t entirely sure about the heavy modification of Shakespeare’s dialogue to add in contemporary policing references – ‘intel’ this and ‘guvnor’ that seemed to be trying too hard when it was never going to fully fit anyway – but there’s something deliciously ballsy about the attempt.

Unfortunately, it soon gets hopelessly tangled up in itself, in large part because Ince throws a second elaborate conceit into the mix: Othello’s subconscious is a character, played by Ira Mandela Siobhan. He paces, twitches and spins around – an indication of the outwardly calm Othello’s interior anguish, as his treacherous BFF Iago (Ralph Davis) slowly poisons him against Desdemona. 

I’m not saying this is a terrible idea per se. But in the context of a production already preoccupied with homaging cop dramas? It’s a terrible idea. The two big concepts keep tripping over each other: certainly neither makes the other any clearer, and the police stuff gradually falls by the wayside to make room for more psychodrama (conceptually it is entirely unclear what the police are actually supposed to be doing in the second half). 

It also seems muddled about race: the Met concept seems a brilliant way to explore institutional racism, but it’s barely a factor outside a couple of slightly extraneous flourishes (cast members quoting racist lines from the play over their walkie-talkies during scene changes, a short, bracingly bitter epilogue).

Finally, and sorry to say it, but ‘Othello’ needs world-class actors. Davis doesn’t really have the chops for Iago, one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most complicated characters: he never really sells us on why he hates Othello so. Nwosu’s Othello has his moments but his abrupt descent into murderous rage doesn’t convince, and his performance feels severely hampered by having another guy on stage acting out his inner feelings, as if he himself wasn’t up to the challenge. 

The bottom line is that ‘Othello’ is an absolute beast of a play and Ince has been overambitious about imposing too many ideas on it. Rewriting the language, making it about the Met and adding an extra Othello is all well and good, but doing so without having the psychology of your two leads meticulously locked down is like taking a stroll up Everest while dressed for the beach. I admire Ince’s chutzpah, and for a while at the start it looks like she might have carried it off. But it progressively loses steam. There’s undeniably some great ideas here: I hope Ince gets to return to the play one day.

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

Details

Address:
Shakespeare's Globe
21
New Globe Walk
Bankside
London
SE1 9DT
Contact:
View Website
Transport:
Tube: Blackfriars/Mansion House/London Bridge
Price:
£5-£62. Runs 3hr

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