Director: Iqbal Khan
Writer: William Shakespeare
Cast: Hugh Quarshie, Lucian Msamati, Joanna Vanderham, Ayesha Dharker, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, James Corrigan, Scarlett Brookes, Brian Protheroe
Seen on: 26.8.2015
When Iago (Lucian Msamati) doesn’t get the promotion he expected from his superior, Othello (Hugh Quarshie), but instead has to watch the younger Cassio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) getting promoted above him, he decides to have his revenge on Othello and Cassio. He uses the people around him to make Othello insanely jealous of his wife Desdemona (Joanna Vanderham). He spins intrigue after intrigue and, as can be expected, things don’t end well.
Othello is basically the classic play about race relations and since it was done many times already, people like to switch it around. The last time I saw it [if you don’t count the re-write I saw] (which was many years ago and still has one of the most mind-boggling casts I ever saw on stage), everybody but Iago and Desdemona was a person of color, this time they made Iago black to see what changes. And while I like the thought of that experiment, I didn’t like this production of the play. It was way too boring.
This version of the play isn’t actually that long – nowhere near the 4.5h of my last experience – but it drags on and on and on and feels at least twice as long as that. I don’t know how they managed that, but I kept checking my watch, which is never a good sign. And they achieved it despite the casual inclusion of torture into the play – I’m usually not that callous a person that I get bored by people being waterboarded, but they brought me there.
Apart from the boredom factor though, I hated the torture scenes because they were done by Othello, our supposedly honorable hero who gets corrupted by Iago. But instead of getting corrupted, he’s the kind of person who orders torture, who sits calmly by doing paperwork or something as it is done and who doesn’t have a shred of empathy – that’s not the kind of person I’m usually rooting for. [It also is yet another iteration of how torture is currently constructed in (popular) culture: as a normal practice of war; as an effective way of getting information; as something that “our” people don’t do because it isn’t proper but that they’re perfectly capable of – and that proves perfectly effective – when time is short and there’s no time for “niceties”. It’s a discourse I find highly questionable.]
The cast was generally excellent and probably the best part of the play. Making Iago black, too, was interesting, mostly because it changed so little about the play and the story. It doesn’t really feel any different: just because the person playing with racist and racial stereotypes about black men is black too, doesn’t make the stereotypes any less racist.
But unfortunately neither that train of thought, nor the pretty cool water channel on stage (the rest of the stage design wasn’t that exciting) could save the play from dragging and dragging until I could barely keep my eyes open from boredom.