Othello (1987): Crummles Theatre Company, Arts Theatre, London

PrOthello (

Location: Arts Theatre, London
Live Performance

CAST INCLUDED: Doug Fisher (Iago); Joseph Marcell (Othello); Alyson Spiro (Desdemona).

This production ran from 24 November - 19 December 1987 at the Arts Theatre, London. It subsequently toured in 1988; venues unknown. No programme has been located, but a full list of the company can be found on an advertising leaflet held at the V&A Theatre and Performance archive although it does not provide the roles they played. Casting information taken from reviews.

"Though the Crummles Theatre Company...may lack the resources of the National and the RSC, it is fortunate in that it also lacks the barnstorming type of actor favoured by Mr Vincent Crummles, from whose troupe in [Charles Dickens's] Nicholas Nickleby the company presumably derives its name. The chief virtue of this Othello, performed in an unobtrusive, nondescript set designed by Fay Armitage, is that it presents the play clearly and vividly, undistorted by directorial arrogance, and acted by virtually its entire cast with intelligence and feeling, qualities not necessarily to be found in abundance in some of the more prestigious Shakespeare productions....in Joseph Marcell's swiftly moving production, the cast's resources are placed firmly at the service of the poetry. Mr. Marcell plays Othello in his own production. It ought not to be unusual to find a black actor in this role, but it is: the last one I encountered was Paul Robeson, 30 years ago at Stratford. Joseph Marcell may lack the imposing stature of his famous predecessor, but he brings a more precisely focused emotion to his portrayal, and more conviction to the verse. An oddity of this Othello is that Cassio is not much lighter-skinned than Othello. After I had persuaded myself that there was no reason why Cassio should not also be a Moor in the employ of the Venetian Senate, I found Jay Ruparelia's engaging portrayal perfectly acceptable."  ~ Charles Osborne, "Putting the poetry first", Daily Telegraph, 2 December 1987

"As a catalogue of chaotic misjudgement, Joseph Marcell's new production of Othello has a certain compulsive fascination. Even its blocking can raise a chortle. The messy, violent brawl in a Cyprus street, in which Roderigo is butchered and Cassio knifed, is staged, for example, so that it seems to be happening in the slumbering Desdemona's bed-chamber, and one is forced to marvel, ludicrously, at the heroine's capacity for deep, imperturbable sleep in the midst of mayhem. Then there are the casting problems. Why, one wonders, has Marcell (who also takes the leading role) chosen to cast Jay Ruparelia, the only other coloured actor in the company, as Cassio - the focus of Othello's sexual jealousy, and the very man whose alleged affair with Desdemona dredges up and exacerbates the hero's painful sense of racial insecurity and apartness. In a fully multi-ethnic cast, this would not be a problem, but here, I'm afraid, it is a worrying distraction. Likewise, as Shakespeare's wronged heroine, Alyson Spiro has, inappropriately, the wry curling mouth and quizzically arched brows of a heroine from Restoration comedy....Of all Shakespeare's tragic heroes, Othello is the one who invents himself most through the gorgeous magniloquence of his language. His wooing of Desdemona is largely a conquest of thrilling rhetoric, and critics who wish to deny him full tragic stature claim that his linguistic self-besottedness deludes him to the end. But in Mr. Marcell's performance, the 'Othello music' is conveyed by an instrument with an alarmingly unpredictable volume control. Lines of ringing poetry are muttered perfunctorily as though they were the minutes of some boring meeting or are bawled out unintelligibly. Admittedly, the final scene (after Desdemona's death) puts extraordinary strains on any actor playing Othello. He has somehow to wriggle and twist and lie embarrassingly, shamelessly compounding his felony, while at the same time intimating to the audience that his behaviour is the dazed reflex of a man who understands, in an agony of remorse, that he has destroyed the basis of his existence. In a ludicrously protracted account of this scene, Mr. Marcell does not seem to be acting bewilderment so much as experiencing it. Doug Fisher makes no overt mistakes as a chipper, plausible Iago; nor does he more than scratch the surface of the character's terrifying nihilism. With his narcissistic false beard and moustaches and air of jittery braggadocio, Richard Seymour's Roderigo is a spiritual cousin of Sir Andrew Aguecheek, transported to a more dangerous world. In this production, though, simple adequacy shines out like a superabundance of merit."  ~ Paul Taylor, "All that's spoke is marred", The Independent, 2 December 1987

"Joseph Marcell played Othello on Monday night and was defeated on points. But my sympathies went out to the real loser in the fight, the veteran play itself, which took a fearful battering from nasty melodramatic knocks over three hours hard, and ended up punch drunk, tottering and bathetic. So did I. Will Othello ever be the same again after such a drubbing...The production was of course an unequal contest. Marcell, a light middleweight black actor, who once made an interesting Othello in a thrilling Lyric Studio production, had here decided both to play the Moor and direct. Pride or vanity came before several falls. His production, thus forced to fight on two fronts, neglected each. Fay Armitage's design, consisting of black and gold backcloth and drapes with box seats and an almost extraneous flight of stepsgreatly restricts the acting space upon this small space. No wonder Cassio's brawl and the final pugilistics emerge as no more than embarrassingly mild feints. Shakespeare's Venice and Cyprus impose such crucial atmospheres scarcely differentiated. The black, gold costumes sometimes appear handsomely Edwardian but are only decorative props. The production tends to be fought out in almost passionless and torpid terms as a series of statuesque displays, the actors organised in neat semicircles, facing the audience. The single flight of directorial inspiration is to cast a black Cassio, played by Jay Ruparelia as a bemused sex object, thereby accentuating the Moor's torments. Otherwise a sense of dynamic contact betwen the actors goes missing except for emphasis upon Othello's sexual entrallment by Alyson Spiro's spirited Desdemona...Doug Fisher's unsinister Iago sets no labyrinthine plot, but ambles bland and bored through Cyprus...Marcell's youngish Othello musters a grave, slow dignity, but when the green-eyed monster is summoned up he goes upon jealousy's rack as if subjected to little more than sharp pricks. The great self-dramatising crescendos of grief, bewilderment and collapse are absent. Speed, agility and power, those vital necessities in the boxer's armoury, which all Othellos require, are missing, so that Marcell goes cool, and fatally so, to spar, gloves down, at the final bedroom rendezvous. No knock out."  ~ Nicholas de Jongh, The Guardian, 3 December 1987

Pe People involved in this production