BWW Review: OTHELLO, Shakespeare's Globe
Michelle Terry's first season at the Globe continues apace, with what some will have marked out as a highlight since its announcement back in January.
Mark Rylance returns to the Globe stage, once again directed by Claire van Kampen, starring as Iago alongside American actor André Holland in the title role. This is another strand in Terry's Emilia arc, which will culminate in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm's new play about Shakespeare's "Dark Lady", Emilia Bassano.
Othello, the Moor of Venice, is a self-made man and a war hero for the Italian republic. However, the Venetians' inherent prejudice against him remains unabated, making him an unwanted son-in-law for Brabantio and a target for cruel revenge from Iago. Brabantio does eventually accept that his daughter Desdemona has not been bewitched into marriage, and the couple leave for Cyprus (alongside Othello's new lieutenant, Cassio) to fight the Turks.
There Iago begins to set his plan into motion, creating discord between Othello and Cassio, before planting the seed of jealousy in Othello's mind about the fidelity of his new wife. The "green-eyed monster" soon rears its ugly head, as the previously happy couple are set onto a path to tragedy.
Whilst van Kampen has undoubtedly come up with a stylish production, it just feels rather safe - and subsequently is a little underwhelming in parts. It doesn't seem to be trying to say anything new or especially contemporary; its setting is not determined (at times convincingly historic, at others more of a hint of the modern) so it's a little hard to really get to grips with.
When you consider the casting of a female Othello at the Liverpool Everyman, an American is rather tame by comparison - it's interesting to switch the focus onto nationality as opposed to race, but what's more important out of the two?
What it does do is show the benefit once again of having a director lead the production, as it does at least give some sense of focus - and allows for some more dynamic choices to be made, such as bringing 'boats' in through the yard rather than just walking onto the stage. The expressive dance routine to close the play does feel a bit out of place, however.
Mark Rylance has made his name employing a certain type of understated acting, but it doesn't always pay off in this particular production. He's adept at making the audience laugh at the slightest thing, which provides welcome light relief during an increasingly dark story, but also threatens to undermine the drama and tension that is painstakingly built up the rest of the time.
Rylance also has a tendency to rush lines out one after another, which removes any sense of emotion or meaning behind them. And though Iago says "I hate the Moor", from this performance it's hard to see why - or even if it's the truth.
André Holland is a captivating presence as Othello, masterfully demonstrating how his character's openness is his downfall; he wears his heart on his sleeve, and his mind is quick to connect the vaguely plausible notions fed to him by Iago. Holland has charisma by the bucketload, and seems to relish any opportunity he has to play with the audience.
Perhaps aptly, given the rough theme of this season, Emilia is the most interesting prospect. Sheila Atim portrays her with an independent spirit that chimes well with her later scenes, where Emilia gets the chance to talk a lot more - her true, free-speaking nature is there from the off, even if it begins with deeds and ends with words.
It's also another opportunity to hear Atim's glorious singing, as she and Desdemona (Jessica Warbeck) perform a beautiful rendition of "The Willow Song" towards the end of the play.
While this production doesn't have the wow factor, it's very easy on the eye and features performances that will live long in the memory.
Picture credit: Simon Annand