I was once again in Bath, for another evening at the theatre, this time to see ‘Othello’, with Lenny Henry in the title role. The production was originally at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, so the cast have had time to settle into it.
It is Lenny Henry’s first Shakespearean role, and I think first major ‘straight’ stage role (nothing like going in at the deep end), and the reviews have been a little mixed, so I was looking forward to seeing for myself how well it worked. I was very impressed with his performance as Fat Charlie (and Spider) in the radio adaptation of Anansi Boys, so I knew he could do striaght acting, but wasn't sure how he would be on stage, in Shakepeare.
The last Othello I saw was at the Globe, with Eammon Walker as Othello, and Tim McInnerey (Lord Percy / Cpt. Darling in Blackadder) as Iago…
This one was a little different.
The setting was broadly Victorian, and the sets pretty minimal – dark, panelled backdrop and a balcony (the bed for the murder scene was brought in later)
Other than Lenny Henry, all of the characters had Yorkshire accents, which was slightly distracting for a moment. And I can say for a fact that Mr Henry can act.
It was fascinating to watch him go from genial, tolerant and magisterial general, and besotted husband, to tormented and brutal murderer.
Iago (Conrad Nelson) was very convincing in his plotting and machinations, although it was harder to see why or how such a man could have gained so many people’s trust.
Desdemona (Jessica Harris) was played as very young, naïve, and deeply in love. Physically, she is tiny, which worked well with Othello who was (literally) head and shoulders above anyone else.
Emilia was played as an older, very pragmatic woman, loyal to her husband despite his behaviour to her and her disapproval of his actions generally., which made her final actions when she was pushed beyond endurance by her realisation that he was responsible for Desdemona’s death both believable and tragic.
There was a little light relief in amongst the tragedy – in particular, in Act II Scene iii – the ‘canakin clink’ drinking song made for a nice little interlude, it came with its own small brass band (thus proving that the production came from ‘oop north’!)
Of course, there are always minor niggles – I felt that Lenny Henry did rush his lines a little, but only in the first couple of scenes – he seemed to get into his stride after that – and as mentioned before, I felt that Iago did ‘evil’ better than ‘convincing people of his trustworthiness’, but all in all it was an excellent production, and I am very glad that I went! I think a lot of others must have felt the same – I gather that it was sold out all week.
So the question becomes, what should I see next? I haven’t any more tickets booked at present…
Professional review and photos here