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Tony Grist

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Othello: Northern Broadsides: Halifax [May. 6th, 2009|09:31 am]
Tony Grist

This is how I like to see Shakespeare done- with a full text, fast, on a naked stage- and without too much in the way of directorial interpretation. Shakespeare doesn't need interpreting. It's all there in the text. Play it straight, trusting the words- and an interpretation will emerge.

Northern Broadsides is Barry Rutter's baby. He directed this production, played Brabantio- and stood around in the aisles chatting to the audience before the performance. The gimmick- if it is a gimmick- is that he recruits actors from the north of England and asks them to use their own accents. More to the point he recruits good actors and trains them well. Pound for pound and talent for talent, this is a stronger company than the RSC. The last two productions I've seen at Stratford were let down by rotten performances- even in key roles. Last night's Othello had acting in depth. Even the understudy who played Bianca was terrific.

This production grabbed the headlines with the novelty casting of Lenny Henry-   funny man of yester-year- as Othello. He was tremendous. He has physical presence, a rich, dark voice- and handles the verse like he's been speaking it all his life. It's a nuanced performance; he has the strength, he has the vulnerability. Now I want to see his Antony, his Macbeth, his Claudius. He is matched by Conrad Nelson's shapeshifting Iago- one moment the coarse, bantering squaddie, the next a venom-spitting basilisk. He has teeth- and knows how to use them. In all the Othellos I've seen to date one of the two protagonists has always over-topped the other. This is the first from which they emerge with equal honours.


From: mamadar
2009-05-06 10:36 am (UTC)
Henry does have a magnificent voice, and when I read an article about this production and how good he was, I quoted the old actor's adage: "Dying is easy. *Comedy* is hard."

Frankly, the shit Othello had to deal with has not changed much, in a few hundred years. Any decent black actor has the emotional baggage to sink his teeth into the role.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-05-06 11:59 am (UTC)
A lot of comics make the transition to straight acting in later years- and often succeed wonderfully. I agree. Comedy is hard. Anyone who has succeeded at comedy almost certainly has the presence and technique to succeed in drama too.
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[User Picture]From: craftyailz
2009-05-06 11:44 am (UTC)
Not just the two male leads but the women were also brilliant. I was wary about going as I've seen Othello and hated it, yet this was gripping and everyone played their part in the success. Barry Rutter - the director - greeted people as they arrived and chatted at the interval as well has playing Desdemona's father. The Yorkshire - and other - accents helped to make it too.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-05-07 09:20 am (UTC)
I should have mentioned the women. For the record, Jessica Harris plays Desdemona, and Maeve Larkin plays Emilia. Richard Standing, who plays Cassio, is also remarkable.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2009-05-06 04:22 pm (UTC)
This is the first from which they emerge with equal honours.

I'm sorry not to see this one!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-05-06 08:54 pm (UTC)
Othello isn't my favourite play- by a long chalk- but this account of it had me riveted.
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2009-05-06 08:17 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad LH does this well. His comedy is getting lamer and lamer, I'd like to see him as a Serious Actor. Did you hear the Radio 4 programme about his experience rehearsing this role? I only heard part of it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2009-05-06 08:53 pm (UTC)
I didn't hear it, but I've seen it discussed in print. Henry got into Shakespeare through doing the same OU course that Ailz did
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