Othello is thus far the highlight in what has proved a somewhat limp and uninspiring first season for Michelle Terry as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. The production is directed by Rylance’s wife Claire van Kampen – who we last saw couple up professionally with her husband for the Globe’s charming Farinelli and the King, which went on to impress on the West End and Broadway – and stars award-winning American actor André Holland (Moonlight and Selma) in the title role.
Kampen’s Othello is set in an indeterminable era, which allows its themes of jealousy, racism and betrayal to feel ever more timeless. Jonathan Fensom’s costumes are made up of components which cleverly flit between centuries and span continents, but his set design is so scarce we’re practically weeping for a visual cue by the time Othello and Desdemona’s bed is wheeled on in the final act. Yes, a health-and-safety-approved cannon pops from above the stage early on (no chance of a thatch fire here), and props in the form of tables and bottles appear for the crew’s celebrations on arrival in Cyprus, but once again this season feels like a tiptoeing around, and bowing down to, the wishes of the Globe’s Board to keep the theatre a museum to Shakespeare’s day.
What makes this production of Othello decent, though, is its cast and in particular, those playing the lead roles. Holland has us charmed in the first half; he’s every bit the true romantic, puppy-eyed and softly spoken in his love for Desdemona (Jessica Warbeck). Holland brings his audience in on his happiness, reacting to his surroundings and even immaculately, humorously, weaving a seagull’s squawk overhead into his speech about the glorious day. His switch in the second half to the role of jealous, loathing, irrational antihero is neat; his volatility as he hits Desdemona across the face believable. Together with Kampen’s clever direction – which sees Othello’s passion for his wife seep into his newfound hate as he continues to kiss and ravish her into death – we feel his inner conflict.
Rylance is widely regarded as the best actor of his generation, and even in a role that often sees him sidelined as the watcher, lurking in the shadows and manipulating the other characters from afar, you can’t help but feel his stage presence. Rylance plays Iago as a sly, skittish puppeteer, switching with terrifying speed from the life and soul of the party – keeping the drinks flowing and revellers dancing as he plays the mandolin with a smug smile only the audience can see – to the dark and malicious schemer who hates the Moor.
Warbeck plays Desdemona as the voice of reason; both fair and ballsy, she adds a contemporary dose of sass and sarcasm to her line ‘I am obedient’, before the plot dictates she live up to the statement. It’s the effortlessly classy and glamorous Sheila Atim, though, who in the role of Emilia holds the fort for the women here. The pair perform a moving a cappella harmony in 'The Willow Song' which, along with the rowdy party scene with its salsa dancing, brass band and bass drum, prove there’s no need for overt modernising of musical moments to make them relatable.
Kampen’s Othello feels tightly bound, with quick moving action and a cast who hold us in their thrall. It won’t blow you away, but this production is the saving grace of Terry’s season so far.
|What||Othello, Shakespeare's Globe review|
|Where||The Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, London, SE1 9DT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Blackfriars (underground)|
20 Jul 18 – 13 Oct 18, 7:30 PM with select 2:00 PM matinee performances
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|