Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe
You can’t say Claire van Kampen’s Othello isn’t Shakespeare’s Shakespeare. In the Globe’s Disneyland version of Elizabethan England, the director has overseen a production that does exactly what it says on the tin, seemingly existing to provide Mark Rylance with an opportunity to step back in time once more.
The much-celebrated thesp cuts a curiously comedic figure as Iago. Soft-spoken – pathetically so – in places, giddy and avuncular in others, his is a villain that almost becomes anti-hero due to a goofy look and an ability to generate laughter with nearly every line. It can be easy to fall into thinking that his scheming is the kind of japery seen in the likes of Twelfth Night, rather than a cruel, unprompted quest for revenge that here appears driven by an old white hatred and jealousy of young black men. And that’d be fine, if the staging did something with this version of Iago, made the audience feel complicit in his treachery; but it doesn’t.
It is, admittedly, an incredibly entertaining performance, only one that also maybe feels at odds with Andre Holland’s Othello, especially in the scenes where the general pivots from doe-eyed love to green-eyed fury at the urging of his ensign. Either side of this turn, the Moonlight actor – rocking a series of incredible coats thanks to Lorraine Ebdon-Price – is excellent as the titular Moor: confident and charismatic before the machinations take hold, haunted and increasingly out of control after.
To modern eyes, Othello unavoidably comes across as much a play about misogyny as one about race. The Globe’s latest show isn’t particularly strong on that front, with little really done to avoid Desdemona’s horrible, horrible death feeling like nothing more than a required part of the narrative.
Iago’s wife Emilia is served better, however, thanks to the glorious Sheila Atim. Alongside Rylance, the actress gives the least self-consciously Shakespearean performance, transcending the surroundings to create a character of great wit, honesty and believability. Atim deserves to have a go at one of Shakespeare’s lead roles in a more ambitious production. Her gorgeous voice even gets an outing, in a show-closing song and dance that might well be the night’s best bit.
If Jonathan Munby’s Ian McKellen-starring King Lear – currently at the Duke of York’s Theatre – felt like a fairly lazy, if slick, way of staging a modern dress Shakespeare, then this is the more “traditional” Globe equivalent. A polished product staying firmly in the boundaries of what many believe Shakespeare should be.
Photo: Simon Annand
Othello is at Shakespeare’s Globe from 20th July until 13th October 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.