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Star Wars And Holby City Actor Is Othello In RSC Play
The tragic Shakespearean tale of Othello has been given an exciting, modern refresh from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) that re-focusses the attention much more on personal jealousy and military brutality rather than just race.
Hugh Quarshie and Lucian Msamati star in an RSC production of Othello directed by Iqbal Khan
Two charismatic British Black actors - Hugh Quarshie and Lucian Msamati - play manipulated Othello and his devious assistant Iago. They are placed in a modern-day war zone and seem to be part of a private military operation where torture is an every day occurrence.
This interpretation, directed by Iqbal Khan (who was behind the RSC's successful version of Much Ado About Nothing in 2012), works well in explaining how easy it is for noble Othello to move so quickly towards a violent solution to his problems.
Khan's version is strengthened with a superb line-up. Msamati is exceptional as Iago. He pushes aside the cliches to be a much more subtle manipulator under an easy-going, friendly exterior. It's only when at his most pressured that we see his anger overflow, slamming the lid on a box repeatedly. His final laugh is particularly chilling.
Quarshie, known more for his film and television roles in Star Wars and Holby City than his long-standing RSC career, is a credible Othello, dignified until drawn into maddening jealousy.
Then there is sweet Desdemona, played with a coquettish youthfulness by television's rising star Joanna Vanderham, seen recently in BBC dramas Banished and The Paradise. She comes into her own towards the final tragic scenes when a sense of doom embodies her actions.
Othello is one of Shakespeare's best tragic plays
The play follows the story of the Black general Othello after he elopes with beautiful White Venetian Desdemona, much to her father's horror, who promptly disowns her for this marriage.
Making life more difficult for the happy couple is Othello's seemingly loyal aide Iago, who secretly despises Othello, and lays down a series of plots to make his general wrongly believe his wife has been unfaithful to him with another soldier.
Although historically, the play has depicted a racist White Iago hating Othello as a Black man, this is not the first time that two Black actors have been cast in the male lead roles to good effect. This version fits well within the original script and touches on much more complex issues of hatred and loyalty within a modern multi-cultural society.
Othello runs until August 28 in Stratford upon Avon
Race is actually most at the fore in a cleverly adapted scene when Iago is creating the downfall of lieutenant Cassio. Iago sets him up for a drunken brawl amid a singing challenge. It is Cassio's inability to rap like other Black soldiers that makes him the butt of jokes and provokes a fight.
What's delightful, in a macabre way, is that the audience gets to revel in Iago's dastardly handy work. He's the one replenishing poor Cassio's cup with more booze. Iago's also the one who puts the bottle into the hand of the aggressor that smashes it over the victim's head.
Tense scenes between Hugh Quarshie as Othello and Lucian Msamati as Iago in the RSC's Othello.
As an audience, it feels as though we are in on the act as he turns to us, shrugging his shoulders and innocently asking 'What?' after his most dastardly deeds. There's more than a touch of dark humour when it comes to Iago in this production, while his devious partnership with Roderigo is depicted as outright comedy.
Water features heavily on an opulent stage, recreating marble buildings and canals in Venice and then Cyprus. But these pools all too often add a menacing atmosphere and tool for torture in what is already a tense and at times brutal environment.
It's all these elements of a cleverly constructed set, fine acting, good direction and modern themes that make this Othello work so well. It's a fresh take on a classic play and it won't disappoint.
Othello will also be broadcast live to cinemas on 26 August 2015
Tickets cost from £8 from the RSC website or by calling 0844 800 1110.