Othello (1950): Arts Council of Great Britain

PrOthello (

Live Performance

PRINCIPAL CAST: Gordon Heath (Othello); Pauline Henriques (Emilia); Roy Purcell (Cassio); Julian Somers (Iago); Valerie White (Desdemona).

The programme's front cover for the Library Theatre, Manchester run of the production (August 28 for three weeks) announces "The Arts Council of Great Britain presents Othello". The production seems to have originated at the Library Theatre, Manchester and the programme also notes that "Immediately after its presentation in Manchester this production will be given in the Miners' Halls of North-East England, the Midlands and South Wales, as part of a joint arrangement between the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Miners' Welfare Commission." Press and other files show the production was performed in the following towns (this is likely not the full list): Abergavenny, Abertysswg, Caerwent, Cymmer, Ebbw Vale, Keswick, Llanhilleth, Newport, Pengam, Pontycymmer, Porthcawl, Spennymoor, Sunderland, Trecynon and Treglaw.

The application from the Arts Council to the Ministry of Labour and National Service for a work permit for Gordon Heath includes this explanation: "He is an American citizen of Jamaican descent, and, therefore, coloured. It is for this reason, besides his ability as an artist, that he is wanted for the leading part in Othello which we are sending for a 15 weeks' tour to theatreless towns, which include a number of Miners' Welfare Halls. We are anxious to give these tours the very best possible cast we can." (28 July 1950, held in V&A Performance Archive).

"A Ken Tynan production, the play was ambitious in its scope and a little unorthodox in its interpretation. Nevertheless it succeeded as few plays have ever done in this town. Once cannot help but feel, however, that it was Julian Somers - an experienced Shakespearean actor - who dominated the play as Iago. Gordon Heath, a coloured American star of superb physique, was a little slow in rceating [sic] his character as Othello, but in the final scenes his brilliant fits of tortured madness and his dramatic poise were all that could be desired. Somers made full use of the calculated lines given to him by Shakespeare, whose villains so often steal the show. His powerful voice and understanding of his character gave him great dramatic power - which need not have been emphasised with such monotonous regularity by dimming the lights. Pauline Henriques, another coloured star, was an impressive and beautiful Emilia, whose poise and carriage and pleasant voice appealed to the audience. Like her stage husband, Iago, with Othello, she too did steal some of the impressiveness which shoud have been Valerie White's as Desdemona."  ~ "Arts Council Present Othello: Amibitious Production Starts New Era in Town", Northern Despatch, 19 October 1950

"In the Arts Council production of Othello...Othello is played by Gordon Heath, who has made his reputation in the leading part of Deep Are the Roots, the play about the colour problem in the United States. Mr. Heath falls somewhat in the highest flights to give the music of the verse its fullest scope, and perhaps for this reason his Othello is less of an extraordinary man than he should be. He is strong, alert, possessive, and, in some of the more still and silent moments at the end, he is impressive, but his tormented being has not quite the towering, sombre stature of the man who Shakespeare imagined in some of the final passages....Pauline Henriques [was] an excellent Emilia."  ~ M. C., Manchester Guardian, 29 August 1950

"Othello, with which the Arts Council last night opened a three weeks' season at the Library Theatre, Manchester, presents Iago in yet another light - that of a 'spiv.' It is only hinted at, but is sufficient to give reality to a character always difficult to bring down to earth. The part is played by Julian Somers, whose stage career began at Altrincham. He indicates the 'spivvish' side of the character with sly humour, portraying the sterner stuff with well-controlled strength. Gordon Heath's Moor has a noble, simple dignity with the final doubt and mental agony under admirable control....Of the other roles in a satisfying production by Ken Tynan, Roy Purcell's Cassio, Willoughby Goddard's Roderigo, Pauline Henrique's Emelia, and Dilys Lay's Bianca are all good. The players wear 18th century costumes and the settings have intriguing touches of symbolism."  ~ F. W. F., "Othello in a new light", Daily Telegraph, 29 August 1950

"The use of 18th century costumes was not out of place though representing a period when Venetian power had far declined. Gordon Heath acted Othello's tragic role brilliantly, and Julian Somers, though lacking some of the restraint in Iago's villainy, cleverly indicated the conflicting facets of this part....Pauline Hendriques was notable as Iago's wife."  ~ G. P., "New stage treatment of Othello at Newport", Western Mail, c. 20 November 1950

"Gordon Heath, first coloured man to play Othello since Robeson, brought new virulence and fire to the part."  ~ Peter Johnson, "New Othello", Evening Chronicle, 29 August 1950

"Reginald Woolley's settings are colourful, and clever effects make an important contribution to the success. Gordon Heath gives a well-planned, impressive and often moving performance as Othello. The profoundly affecting last act is a tribute to his achievement. But it is Julian Somers's interpretation of Iago that engenders the liveliest interest. His is not the traditional reading of the role. He substitutes for the subtle and sinister the more forceful strident intriguer."  ~ C. N. D. C., "A Provocative Othello", South Wales Echo, c. 21 November 1950

Pe People involved in this production