An Othello (1972): Open Space Theatre
PrAn Othello (1972)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Judy Geeson (Desdemona); Anton Phillips (Iago); Edward Phillips (Brabantio); David Schofield (Cassio); Malcolm Storry (Duke); Rudolph Walker (Othello).
The programme states that this production premiered on 8 June 1972, but there are no dates for a full run. It also includes two pages of text from Malcolm X.
"What a pleasure to see a fine director at work - the thought was in my mind all through last night's new play. This was An Othello and it bears the signature of a craftsman in all departments. The costumes are striking. The cast is subtly chosen, and all the players seem at their best....The director is Charles Marowitz. And if he understands the play it is because he also wrote it, and stages it at his Open Space, a Tottenham Court Road basement well known for interesting new work. This is the third of his exercises on a Shakespearean theme. The poet's dialogue has been telescoped to its burning essentials. The resultant mish-mash tells the story seriously, but as though for young audiences in a hurry. It is also fiercely slanted. Iago is the hero, and as black as the Moor. He despises Othello as a traitor to his people. The idea may be crudely propagandist, but it at once gives Iago a motive for his villainy. A double motive: he suggests that the black man in Othello must resent something in a wife from the traditional oppressors. There are acute insights. We learn of Desdemona's gloating, indecent pleasure in a coloured husband. We learn of the army's prejudice, from lieutenant to top brass, against a coloured commander. And we see how tactfully Othello has to be handled by the senators after he has been recalled from Cyprus - a scene heavily satirising the whites' fear of offending his former victim. The now familiar line is pursued with wit and the company are first-rate: Rudolph Walker (Othello), Anton Phillips (Iago), Judy Geeson (Desdemona). And Charles Marowitz's direction is outstanding." ~ John Barber, "Subtly chosen cast in An Othello", Daily Telegraph, 9 June 1972
"Most of us have been content to accept Othello as a play about jealousy and human malevolence. Charles Marowitz at the Open Space has decided to use the same basic plot as an illustration of modern black-white confrontation....Interspersing snatches of the original with the gutter dialogue of the Black Panther white-hater, Mr Marowitz propels the story along though dream sequences, farcical incidents and Shakespeare's poetry to a climax that says the black man will always be the white man's victim....Rudolph Walker as Othello, is excellent as a hunk of black bewilderment. Anton Phillips, as the sharp, blistering Iago corrupted by loathing, is always interesting....As a clever, imaginative pastiche, An Othello certainly deserves support. As a philosophical or moral statement, only a fraction as serious as Shakespeare's original, it hardly makes the grade." ~ Milton Shulman, "Milton Shulman at the Open Space", Evening Standard, 9 June 1972
"Mr. Marowitz's boldest innovatory stroke is to make Othello and Iago represent contrasting black stereotypes: what Malcolm X called the House Negro, who totally accepts his master's system of values, and the Field Negro who is a congenital revolutionary. Theatrically this yields any number of effective moments such as Iago's running scatalogical commentary on Othello's Uncle Tomist speech to the Venetian senate..." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 9 June 1972
"What Marowitz has done is to move the supposedly marginal issue of race to the dramatic centre, cutting, reordering, and adding the material to fit....And as the emphasis is displaced from a heroic individual to a whole race, why allow Othello to maintain the shreds of tragic dignity which he does in Rudolph Walker's performance? Here, perhaps, the question of acting psychology comes in. Only a white liberal could invite a black actor to play the greatest Negro role ever written and then direct him to play it as a puny Uncle Tom. Against the logic of the piece, Marowitz has been too kind to insist on that." ~ Irving Wardle, The Times, 9 June 1972