The Globe Theatre can always be relied upon to present productions of a high standard, and this year’s Othello is certainly no exception. This is the first production of Othello to be performed at the Globe with a black actor playing the title role. Not only that, but Iago is being played by the highly respected Tim McInnerny, who is most well-known for his parts in the hit British comedy, The Black Adder.
Having heard that McInnerny’s performance as Iago is his best yet, I was eager to see for myself. The challenge of playing Iago is a sizeable one for any actor. Whilst he is certainly one of the more enjoyable Shakespearean characters to play, the problem of how to demonsatrate why he is so full of hatred and jealousy always looms overhead. Thankfully, McInnerney does this better than I had even expected. His audience believes in him; they gain insight into his anger with life, and join him in the torment of his insatiable jealousy of all those around him.
As is always the case at the Globe, it is a truly interactive experience, drawing the crowd into the action — especially the groundlings in the yard — with cast members entering through the standing crowds from all sides, and explosions overhead that startle even the most suspecting audience member. Subtle music offstage also adds an important atmospheric enhancement.
The Elizabethan-style costumes and carefully recreated surroundings provide an arena for Shakespearean performance unrivalled by no other. The sense of anachronism is almost entire (the odd plane soaring overhead disregarded), creating the perfect surroundings to lose yourself in the performance before you.
Black humour is the interpretation of Iago and Roderigo’s several dialogues. In some ways, these passages allow the audience to enter a lighter few moments within the dark atmosphere of the play’s gloomy meta-narrative. Yet these moments are also demonstrative of Iago’s behaviour toward those more naive than him, and show his hatred of Othello. Iago’s manipulation of Roderigo is essentially to bring about the downfall of Othello. Still, Roderigo’s performance is a refreshing aspect of the play, leaving him both beautifully and lovingly betrayed.
Eamonn Walker’s portrayal of Othello is a formidable one, however in the delivery of his speech, explaining how he won over Desdemona, we see that his arduous life justifies the fearsome man that Walker presents. Brabantio (John Stahl) also gives a commanding performance as Desdemona’s angered and betrayed father, his lines delivered with the utmost natural eloquence.
The drunken scene is a real highlight, instantly atmospheric and utterly believable, providing evidence of how Iago, though such a deceitful man in the eyes of the audience, appears amongst his friends as the most jovial of companions. Cassio, in particular, comes to the fore in this scene, with some convincing and energetic fighting, after which he laments the loss of his reputation. The fact that Iago targets the very thing that Cassio values the most is exemplary of Iago’s terrible skill in attacking what is most important to others.
As is often an occurrence at British open theatre performances, the glorious sunshine of earlier in the day turned into a torrential thunderstorm. As the groundlings became drenched, there was a tangible danger that the cast were losing the audience’s concentration. This was valiantly overcome, however, by both Walker and McInnerny, spontaneously altering line emphases to bring about laughter from the soggy spectators. McInnerny even made the kind and humorous gesture of throwing a towel to one particularly drenched audience member whilst taking his bow.
Such is the prevailing atmosphere of the whole performance — through rain came audience laughter, as through tragedy, a tinge of comedy still shines through.