‘Othello’ review

Theatre, Shakespeare
4 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars
(4user reviews)
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon AnnandAndré Holland (Othello)
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon AnnandSteffan Donnelly (Roderigo) and Mark Rylance (Iago)
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon Annand
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon AnnandAndré Holland (Othello) and Jessica Warbeck (Desdemona)
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon Annand André Holland (Othello) and Jessica Warbeck (Desdemona)
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon Annand Jessica Warbeck (Desdemona) and Mark Rylance (Iago)
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon AnnandMark Rylance (Iago)
 (© Simon Annand)
© Simon AnnandSheila Atim (Emilia) and André Holland (Othello)

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Mark Rylance and André Holland are excellent in this toxic-masculinity-heavy take on Shakespeare’s tragedy

For the best part of 400 years, ‘Othello’ been treated as a tragedy about a black man, Othello, driven out of his mind by the racist scheming of his supposed friend, Iago. 

But Claire van Kampen’s surprisingly jaunty production for the Globe takes the alternate emphasis: that ‘Othello’ is a tragedy about a young woman, Desdemona, who is murdered by her husband Othello as a result of his brittle ego and fragile masculinity.

This is not to say that race has no place to play here, or that Mark Rylance’s faux-humble army officer Iago isn’t the architect of his general’s downfall. But enough is done here to take away Othello’s excuses. 

Casting complicates the meaning of race: ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Selma’ star André Holland’s Othello is not the only major black character here. He’s joined by Aaron Pierre, as the dashing Cassio, framed by Iago. And incandescent rising star Sheila Atim – fresh from winning an Olivier for her turn in ‘Girl from the North Country’ – plays Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s lady-in-waiting Emilia. Scornfully towering over Rylance’s Iago – who for whatever reason seems to be dressed as Mario the plumber – she’s the most charismatic performer here, and contributes to the strong sense that the incomparably less glamorous Iago is driven to his murderous actions by a towering sense of inadequacy. (NB with Cassio’s sort-of other half Bianca played by Catherine Bailey, it's interesting to note all three of the relationships here are mixed race, disarming the notion that Othello and Desdemona are some sort of special case).

Rylance, the greatest actor of his generation etc etc, is obviously superb. It’s a deliberately down-at-heel performance: his Iago is a scruffy coward, feeding his pawns their lines from the shadows like a sort of malign Cyrano de Bergerac. He’s also funny: with the character’s more supervillainy speeches pruned in this production, he’s got a blithe, chancer-ish energy, a sense that he’s making this all up as he goes along. One assumes that he’s driven by a jealousy of his sophisticated boss and elegant wife – but equally it’s apparent that he’s just a man indulging his worst instincts, who rides the situation out opportunistically.

Most interesting, though, is American star Holland. He’s small and dapper, a ways away from the classic ‘miilitary’ man, and the most eloquent and erudite character. He certainly suffers some racism – but he shrugs it off. What he can’t shrug off is the damage his ego suffers when Iago leads him to believe Desdemona is cheating on him. He doesn’t ‘go mad’ - he’s another man who murders his partner. It’s increasingly difficult in diversely cast modern Shakespeare productions to make Othello’s race his single defining characteristic (see also the NT’s 2013 production); within this context, I don't think it’s being dismissive of racism to move the emphasis to toxic masculinity as he torments then throttles Jessica Warbeck’s blameless Desdemona.

In spite of this undeniable heaviness, Van Kampen’s production is kinetic and vivacious. It has the greatest concentration of acting firepower in town and whumps you in the guts at its most emotional points; but it also has genuine laughs and a couple of delightful full-on dance sequences. Purists may be annoyed that Iago’s soliloquies have been trimmed, but my only real criticism is the costumes – leaving aside the question of why Rylance looks like a lovable video game hero, the aggressive, period-hopping eclecticism doesn’t feel very helpful (though Atim’s mustard pantsuit is a thing of unalloyed wonder).

The new Michelle Terry regime at the Globe has had an uncertain start, but this smart, sensitive, surefooted contribution from a crew of old hands goes some way to steadying the ship.


Users say (4)

2 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

2.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:1
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:2
3 people listening
2 of 2 found helpful

I am not sure where to start. This was amateur level work by 90 percent of the cast. Perhaps the worst professional production of any Shakespeare play I have seen. André Holland had no ability to play the authority and emotional depth required for this role. He was out of his league and whoever cast him should be fired. Desdemona was stale and boring. Emelia was dreadful. From the moment she stepped on the stage she was pulling focus as if the play was about her. I know the globe has the “emelia”. Through the season thing going on but this play isn’t about her. Her hair was gold and both her appearance and performance were over the top ridiculous and overdone. Roderigo did some good work and I felt like he belonged on that stage. Though Mark Rylance had some good moments and performed the “put money in thy purse” speech very well, his overall portrait of Iago was lazy and without the depth required for this part. Mark Rylance is A great actor so I was quite shocked by his overall portrait and performance of Iago. Perhaps he is too busy with multiple projects at the moment and was unable to give to this part what it requires to fly. What a waste. The director was terrible, foolish staging and throwing in a bizarre extraneous ballet dance scene at the very end further deterred the majority of the casts ability to bring Shakespeare’s words to life. shakespeare And his dear friend John Barton are rolling over in their graves.

This was the worst production of Othello ever delivered on the professional stage.  Mark Rylance has butchered one of the greatest roles in all Shakespeare... producing a character to remind the viewer more of Super Mario than the villainous brooding character of Iago.  He plays it all for laughs, but even delivers the part of the clown badly....  hamming it up, winking at the audience in the hope of getting a laugh where a laugh was never intended.  Not worth wasting your time or your money on this disaster.

1 of 1 found helpful

A tragedy lost in an inadequate and inconsequent production.

In this misdirected, miscast rendition, a thinly painted Iago destroys a poorly painted relationship. 

Desdemona's reactions to all that happened to and around her were uninspired, and we were relieved when she was killed. Emilia was curiously wooden in Act 1, and in Act 2 her relationship with Iago and Desdemona were weirdly inconsistent. Cassio's arm muscles were far more interesting and honed than his reaction to loosing his position and reputation, Othello and the Doge were both examples of actors who don't trust themselves to portray people who have authority, and Roderigo, though enjoyable, seemed cast mostly because he was light enough for Iago to carry offstage. The blocking seemed chosen to allow the audience to see a bit of everyone, but rarely to assist the narrative when it could have done so much. Even the boats were clumsy in their design and operation, and not even in a funny way. 

I could go on, but if you've read this far, I feel sure you have got the general idea! If you go, hire three Globe cushions; one to sit on, one to throw, and one to smother yourself if they don't stop.

0 of 1 found helpful

Yes!  A lot of cuts and a few fainters in the groundlings but what a cast and what a production. The fact the Mark Rylance's Iago wasn't the standout performance speaks to the talent. Great entry level production - focussed,  prudent cuts, beautifully and clearly spoken and wonderfully acted. The Globe under the new artistic director is having a cracking season so far.