Tuesday, April 23

Othello – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Director Ola Ince rendition of Shakespeare’s dark tragedy  

The authentic Shakespearean Othello ‘Moorish’ features as a top ranking detective police officer in the London metropolitan force, which offers up the notion that this is not your ordinary version of Othello. The opening scene introduces the characters Othello Ken Nwosu’s and Poppy Gilbert as his wife, Desdemona entwined in love a marriage vows. Shakespearean enthusiasts will recognise the familiar characters of the devious hateful Iago portrayed by Ralph Davis and Cassio played by Oli Higginson.

References to police dialogue and officers switching from uniformed police, in body  armour  merges at times quite clumsily with the Shakespearean text, which at times feels wrong but as the sequence of events unfolds it adds humour, and sensitivity to what is a dark story of love, treachery and jealousy. Similarities of racism are laced throughout the play as the issues surface within Othello himself and his inner torment and struggles synchronised with the unconscious biases and misogyny led bare within the metropolitan police today; at times felt strongly political, maybe this was the message intended. Othello’s subconscious dark and tormented soul brought about an air of fear of what was to come and played brilliantly by Ira Mandela Siobhan. The shapes and dance moves created by Ira were captivating and whilst communicating only by movement the thoughts and agonising decision making occurring in Othello’s mind, it landed well.     

Ken Nwosu and Poppy Gilbert in Othello. Photography by Johan Persson

The quirky names given to the characters, Desdemona “Chelsea Girl” Cassio as “Eton Boy” drew laughs from the audience and had some resonance to nicknames given to people in current day terminology. The entrance of Roderigo Sam Swann as a deliveroo-uber eats delivery driver was a curve ball, was it necessary to go that far into modern times to satisfy a modern day audience, yes perhaps it had its place.           

The notion of running a police concept drama within a play was conflicting at times and did distract from the originality of Othello and did not really add much or enhance the dialogue, however what it did succeed in was raising the cultural and sensitive profiles of misogyny, inherent racism within institutionalised organisations like the Met and such like biases relatable and commonplace within societal norms.

Othello is classic grit Shakespeare with demonic menacing characters full of malice and hatred for the “Moor” this was not obvious and their dialogue was lost in translation and weak possibly due to the added concept of the police drama entwined within it. An ambitious attempt by Ince and admiration given to even attempt the change and play around with the dialogue in what is a stellar play studied by generations over years as an academic piece.      

The power and brilliance was in the two Othello’s and how they interacted physically with touch, fight and affection transformed into pain, sufferance and sorrow.  Higginson’s Iago could have been stronger and revered instead he was quite soft and unsure

Being in the Globe theatre adds its own special experience, an environment steeped in Shakespearean history that adds poignancy to any performance. With music that is upbeat and musical references it added optimism in what is a murderous tragedy; a three hour play which is compelling and engaging and time passes with ease. For Shakespearean geeks this will not disappoint as it is true to Othello and a genuinely enjoyable watch, but be prepared for the slightly convoluted approach to the plot lines.     

Part of Sam Wanamaker 10th Anniversary Season, playing until 10th April https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

Reviewer: Michelle Knight

Reviewed: 22nd February 2024  

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.