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Kurt Egyiawan as Othello. Photo: Marc Brenner

The Globe's production of Shakespeare's play is tense and compelling, writes Tom Griffiths

Macbeth, King Lear, Shylock — all bring madness and death upon themselves with tragic inevitability.

Othello’s bloody end is no less inevitable and no less tragic but, unlike those other protagonists in Shakespeare’s plays, here the villain of the piece, Iago, is unrepentant and he leaves Othello (Kurt Egyiawan), the feted Moorish commander who has come to the aid of the Venetian state, his chaste wife Desdemona (Natalie Klamar) and her loyal servant Emilia (Thalissa Teixeira) in a gory heap by the end.

Othello allows himself to be consumed by his destructive sexual jealousy, believing that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Cassio, another of his lieutenants.

His suspicions, not of his own making, are a response to the poison poured into his ear by his trusted subordinate.

Sam Spruell’s Iago is likely a wife-beater, repressed homosexual and narcissist.

His wife Emilia visibly cringes in his presence and the question is posed, does he love as well as hate Othello?

Spruell has the viciousness of an institutionalised professional soldier, though he lacks the reptilian charm that gives the role its twisted appeal.But, switching between cringing obsequiousness and self-entitled rage, Spruell still does justice to one of the most unsettling characters in Shakespeare.

Adding to the drama is the motif of racism embedded throughout, with each racial slur ratcheting up the tension with cross-hair accuracy.

Almost all the characters wait for Othello to betray his “base negro” nature, exposing an underlying bitterness toward the successful Moor. Yet Othello charms us. Shakespeare has us believe in his virtuous qualities from the start and this duality of acceptance and hostility is one of the reasons why the play resonates as a warning against any selfcongratulatory comparison with our own times.

This is a production marred by scattergun contemporary referencing — a camera phone, contemporary music, a mirror ball have no clear intent — but most of the performances enable the play to rise above this self-sabotage.

Casting Cassio (Joanna Horton) as an openly gay woman in a macho heterosexual world is a bold, and successful, move.It’s impossible not to sympathise with the panic in her voice when she bemoans the death of her “reputation, reputation, reputation” — here no mere expression of vanity but a lament for the failure of a life attempting to “fit in.”

And Egyiawan’s Othello is remarkable and heartbreaking as he plummets into the hole Iago has dug for him.

If you can, go and see his fall in this candlelit production.

Runs until April 22 at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse

Tagged under: Racism Theatre Arts

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