British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database
Othello (1992): Deconstruction Theatre Company, Baron's Court Theatre
This production ran from 28 January - 22 February 1992, according to Theatre Record.
This was a "photo-negative" production of Othello before Jude Kelly and Patrick Stewart's Washington, D.C. version focused attention on the concept.
"Ronnie Selwyn Philips [sic] will be creating theatrical history as a white actor fronting a black supporting cast in a new adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello...Set in present times on an island off the coast of Africa, with the white Othello helping black inhabitants with revolution and conflict, the production is a unique production from a new perspective." ~ "On the fringe", Ms London, 27 January 1992
"Ronald Selwyn Phillips has transplanted Othello to an anonymous sultanate off the coast of present-day Africa. Apart from Colonel Othello, a European mercenary, the characters are black. Shakespeare's black interloper becomes a "big white ram" and Brabantio's daughter is covered not by a Barbary horse but by a Palomino. As a mercenary, Othello loses nobility, though perhaps the production implies that the Moor who renounces his culture for foreign service is hardly noble anyway. At any rate, Adam Roberts's production is aptly small scale, intimate and controversial. The tiny, pillared acting space beneath the Baron's Ale House is flanked by seats on three sides, less a theatre in the round than three prosceniums at right angles in an obviously converted wine cellar. The set consists of bright semi-abstract daubs on the walls (design: Clodagh McGuinness)....After a low-key start, Yomi A. Michaels dominates the stage: presence, speech and (once warmed up) facial mobility contribute to a beautifully-judged portrait of Othello's trusted ancient (here captain). He needs more confidence, more physical expansiveness, and a production that points the lines and varies the pace more. But here is a discovery. Given the naturalistic criteria of British theatrical casting. Michaels may find it tough; but parts must be made for him. The one white member of the cast is the least distinct. Chistopher Toba's young Othello has Clint Eastwood's cheekbones but a foreign accent that slurs and blurs the words. Bianca has vanished; so, more controversially, has Desdemona's bedroom scene, the Willow Song included. Nina Sosanya's lovely, girlish Desdemona has flashes of spirit, a true chieftan's daughter whose occasional note of Sloaney petulance is not inappropriate." ~ Martin Hoyle, "Losing his nobility", The Times, 4 February 1992
"Since adaptor Phillips is a former secretary of QPR, one feels forced to describe this as a production of two halves. The first is sluggish, the second an improvement as the actors extract greater passion - evidence, perhaps, of a team pep-talk at half-time. But this burst of energy isn't enough to turn things around. The real problem lies in the brutal cutting: while accommodating a small cast, it removes any sense of place or tension. Subconsciously, the play admits this. Updated to an African state, with Othello played as a white mercenary while everyone else is black, Phillips replaces Venice and Cyprus with 'Nameless Island'. More surprising still, the device of colour-reversal is used to little effect. Christopher Toba's Othello is strong, but saddled with a Scandinavian/South African accent which often makes him appear to be wrestling with the verse rather than the feelings within his breast. Still, he is a plus point as are Yomi Michaels' insidious Iago - ultimately a real chiller - and Nina Sosanya's trule 'honest' Desdemona." ~ Paul Dempsey, City Limits, 6 February 1992
"What a welcome surprise, to come across a production that rejuvenates Shakespeare's windiest and most over-rated tragedy through the simple trick of reversing the colours. In other words, Othello becomes the only white man on the stage, an alien interloper marrying into a black community which has hired him as a mercenary to win their wars. The pace of Ronald Selwyn Phillips's rough-cut adaptation is impressive, but many of his minor emendations do not scan, and by simplifying some of the speeches he has diluted the grand bombastic atmosphere that lends depth and resonance to Othello's tragedy. It doesn't help that Christopher Toba's Othello is a little too youthful for comfort, shouting and blustering with a silly Zorba the Greek accent that wins no more sympathy than Nina Sosanya's 'updated' Desdemona, all foot-stamping petulance and teasing smoochiness. As ever, it is left to Iago to cary the day, and Yomi A Micahels does so with a vengeance. His eyeballs seem to freeze in their sockets, and yet there is a warmth about this quietly spokenman that makes sense of Othello's misplaced trust in him. Overall, despite a few rough edges, the gripping tautness of Adam Roberts' production admirably justifies the experiment." ~ Michael Wright, Time Out, 5 February 1992
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