Othello (2009): Royal Shakespeare Company
CAST INCLUDED: Michael Gould (Iago); Tamsin Griffin (Emilia); Alex Hassell (Cassio); Patrice Naiambana (Othello); Natalie Tena (Desdemona).
This production was a touring production.
"When we first glimpse Othello and Desdemona together on Venice's Bridge of Sighs, they are making sweet music together. But this is the 1950s, and as Desdemona's father, Brabantio, makes very clear, you don't want your daughter marrying a black man. Racism is an everyday fact of life. Othello's soldiers admire him as a successful fighting machine, but when he and his wife retire to bed, a blacked-up crooner in the mess room makes lewd suggestions with a crude, life-size doll, and there are more golliwogs than in a BBC green room....Liz Cooke's bridge-like design is clever but sometimes more a hindrance than a help, and scenes depicting Othello's madness and Desdemona's dream - though both visually stunning - are flourishes that detract from the drive towards tragedy....As the outsider hero, Naiambana is initially too sonorous, but the performance rises in stature the further Othello falls." ~ Lyn Gardner, "Stunning scenes and flourishes in lewd, crude Othello", The Guardian, 7 February 2009
"[Hunter's] new touring Othello for the RSC features a re-working of the rowdy Cyprus drinking scene in Act 2 that incorporates a blacked-up Al Jolson impersonator and a mischievously brandished golliwog. Directors often make the point that the army culture surrounding the Moor is stewed in casual racist contempt, but I've never seen it rendered so explicitly. With no lines in Shakespeare to support this particular reading, Patrice Naiambana's Othello has to mark the open insult with a dignified, eloquent silence....Naiambana manifests a pent-up martial authority but rarely conveys much turbulent interiority. His phrasing is neat, controlled and richly sonorous, ensuring the moments when he breaks into African chant feel oddly forced." ~ Dominic Cavendish, Daily Telegraph, 9 February 2009
"Othello's secret marriage, the flowery language that smothers clarity with metaphor and simile, and above all the awareness that he is black in a white man's world - all these suggest that he is willing the calamity that destroys him. Kathryn Hunter's direction for the Royal Shakespeare Company's spring tour enforces this interpretation upon us. She first shows us Othello and Desdemona embracing in the shadow thrown by a Venetian bridge: already the customary order of things is being tested. Patrice Naiambana has the heroic bearing proper to the role, and undoubtedly shows love for Natalie Tena's Desdemona, but when Iago makes his first insinuations does he knock the man down? Not at all. Quietly he listens - and to a man he has passed over for promotion who is now badmouthing the man who supplanted him." ~ Jeremy Kingston, The Times, 12 February 2009
"Kathryn Hunter directs a touring version of Othello with Patrice Naiambana as an imposing, vocally burnished tragic hero and Natalie Tena, an RSC debutant, as an athletic, vocally impoverished Desdemona. Tena sings well enough, but can't speak verse. That's not viewed as a handicap at the RSC these days...The play starts on a bridge of sighs in Venice, where Othello and his bride sing an African chant as he makes a present of the strawberry decorated handkerchief....The tupping of a white ewe by a black ram is at the centre of the play's social discourse, and it is refreshingly honest of Hunter to take us back to it, even if she over-strains in the 'physical theatre' department. Naiambana growls and fumes to volcanic effect, cracking a huge bullwhip when he finally strangles Desdemona; his epileptic fit is the best I've seen since Olivier, and his switch to unstoppable vengeance mode truly terrifying." ~ Michael Coveney, Independent, 19 February 2009, in Theatre Record 2009, Issue 3