Othello (2009): Northern Broadsides
PRINCIPAL CAST: Jessica Harris (Desdemona); Lenny Henry (Othello); Maeve Larkin (Emilia); Conrad Nelson (Iago).
The first performance of this production took playce at the Quarry Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds on 14 February 2009 where it ran until 14 March 2009. It subsequently toured and transferred to the West End. The production subsequently appeared as a recording for radio, broadcast on 27 February 2010 as part of BBC Radio 3's The Saturday Play series, with Lenny Henry as Othello and the above principal actors reprising their roles.
"A circus came to Leeds last night. A media circus, that is, convened for Lenny Henry's long-awaited turn as Shakespeare's tragic lover Othello....[Barrie] Rutter's company don't do posh and are famous for their cloth cap renditions of classics normally reserved for hardened luvvies. Nonetheless it was a big ask just to play it straight for the stand-up who created the cheesy lover Theophilus P. Wildebeest, based on the walrus of love, Barry White. At least Henry is blessed with a rich plummy voice - as orotund as anything the RSC has to offer. And yet with his loping gait and rolling eyes, you half expect him to blurt out 'you know what I mean, Harry' at the end of one of his speeches." ~ Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail, 19 February 2009, in Theatre Record 2009, Issue 4
"Eyebrows have been raised at the casting of Lenny Henry as Othello. But comedians, from Ken Dodd to Dawn French, have played Shakespeare before. And Henry, without challenging memories of Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Moor, makes a perfectly decent fist of it in a rather tame, middle-of-the-road Northern Broadsides proeduction....He is a big, burly impressive figure who describes his wooing of Desdemona with transparent sincerity. And even if, in his breakdown, he resorts to the bunched fist and physical abuse of his wife, he is more gored bull than strutting peacock. Henry's voice may not always measure up to the rhetorical music of the verse, but there is a simple dignity to his performance that touches one: not least in his final confession when he sits on the corpse-laden bed lamenting his fate before wrenching a hidden dagger from its wooden post. Henry deserves credit for extending his range and putting Othello squarely at the centre of the play. But little else in Barrie Rutter's production raises the temperature. The play's military context is sketchy, and Ruari Murchison's set is a bland all-purpose affair of embossed double-doors and Venetian blinds." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 19 February 2009, in Theatre Record 2009, Issue 4
"Lenny Henry left the world of face-pulling comedy last night and took on Othello, the role that gave even Laurence Olivier sleepless nights. It is said every clown secretly yearns to play Shakespeare. Lenny Henry, a brilliant comic, realised that wish, and showed us his quite courageous take on the anguished, Moor ripped open by jealousy. Physically speaking, he is perfect for the role. He stands well over six feet, is heavily muscular and broad-shouldered - as you would imagine Shakespeare might have seen the Moor himself. His voice, too, literally booms, sometimes in a baritone roar, and he has quite a commanding stage presence. That said, it is when it comes to the testing matter of stage technique that our Lenny shows his inexperience. It seriously lacked the gravitas of the more formally trained actor." ~ Paul Callan, Daily Express, 19 February 2009, in Theatre Record 2009, Issue 4