British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database
Othello (1975): Young Vic Theatre
PRINCIPAL CAST: David Burke (Othello); Michael Kitchen (Iago); Sally Anne Newton (Desdemona); Judy Wilson (Emilia).
This production was produced in October 1975.
"It is good to see this fine auditorium packed with an eager audience for the start of the Young Vic's sixth season, but sad to relate that the show is a mess. Alfred Lynch's company is way under par, and where the production should have achieved much in simplicity of staging due to the advantages of audience contact for the soliloquies and asides so devastating and essential in this tragedy, the overall effect is of splayed resources and mis-cued passions. We see the attendants mustering offstage to make their astonished entrance on the last scene; even worse, Desdemona takes up her centre stage position in revealing half light to await the arrival of her death bed. No special pleading of a small budget will do; the show is, simply, badly designed. Amid this fuzzed sea of half-hearted Venetian fashions and muffled lines, David Burke's playing of the title role maintains an intelligent decorum before succumbing to the task of ascending the summit. A vigorous, forthright soldier who is only differentiated from Cassio and Iago by the colour of his skin, we miss the ambiguity of his magical origins to fortify credence in the gargantuan pathos of his deception. Although his military authority is never in doubt - the silencing of the quarrel manufactured by Iago to discredit Cassio is imperiously managed - we wait in vain to squirm at the sight of spiritual nobility humbled in the grip of irrational passion. Mr. Burke appears to be in two minds, as well, as to the extent to which his performance should dally with negroid characteristics. Some vowels are given musical lengthening, some gestures recall Olivier's upturned palms and anguished hip-rolling. But the flood, both physical and mental, is consistently held in check....Bianca is, in this instance, a black girl of decidedly tactile inclination." ~ Michael Coveney, Financial Times, 8 October 1975
"I don't know whether David Burke was deliberately trying to interpret the Moor as if he were an American general in a Hollywood war film, but his casual manner, hands on hips, loose-limbed walk, certainly made him look like a sun-tanned Rock Hudson having trouble in Vietnam." ~ Milton Shulman, Evening Standard, 8 October 1975
"One of the delights of the London Theatre is a "House Full" notice at the Young Vic which has the liveliest audience in the ten-mile radius. The house was crammed last night for an Othello in which wisely the director, Alfred Lynch, 'dulls not device by coldness and delay.' Not a major performance, it is always direct and intelligent. What the company lacks at the moment is a constantly summoning voice....Some of the best support in this small-scale version, a round, unvarnished tale, comes from Sally Anne Newton's Desdemona, a gentle lilly; [Judy] Wilson's sure Emilia; a spitfire of a Bianca (Cleo Sylvestre); and Michael Graham Cox's peevish dupe of a Roderigo. Mr. Lynch, in Alix Stone's setting, has a forestage, a flight of steps, and a terraced background and here he urges along the action without looking for obtrusive invention." ~ J. C. Trewin, Birmingham Post, 9 October 1975
"The casting is extremely odd. Iago and Emilia look more like son and mother than husband and wife; and Roderigo (Michael Graham Cox) more like a crony of Brabantio's than a young Venetian fop. With Iago and Othello themselves we seem to have wandered into other plays altogether. Entering to langurous offstage harmonies, his warlike parts entirely subdued to the melting mood. David Burke converts Othello into an Orsino who managed to carry Olivia off. Michael Kitchen's elfin Iago, likewise, is a dead ringer for Puck. Othello is apt to tousle his hair like a toy golliwog, and watch him scampering about with a parental smile." ~ Irving Wardle, "Iago without evil, Othello without wrath", The Times, 9 October 1975
"Were Enoch Powell to black his face for the part, it would scarcely be more improbably than David Burke's Othello at the Young Vic. In fact, Burke has a touch of Powell's wayward accent, but very little of his passionate histrionic skill....The designs are extremely economical: Iago, for instance, sports two-tone hose, and brown doublet. Everybody clumps around in heavy boots. Othello's in particular seem to encourage him in shuffling to and fro like a creature in Doctor Who. The supernumeraries, of whom there are very few, are not very good at attending to the action. Cleo Sylvestre makes a randy, black, convincing Bianca." ~ Tom Sutcliffe, The Guardian, 8 October 1975.
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