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Othello at the Globe

This is the night / That either makes me or fordoes me quite.
---- Iago
Othello at the Globe
Eamonn Walker as Othello
(Photo: Johann Persson)
With each passing year, the Globe, the reproduction Shakespearean theatre on London's South Bank, goes from strength to strength in staging plays which deserve to be seen and not just because of the unique setting. This season they have attracted a British actor Eamonn Walker, who has made his name in the United States, back to London to play Othello. I suspect all too few British theatregoers will be familiar with Eamonn Walker's award winning role as Kareem Said, the leader of the Muslim prisoners in HBO's hard hitting series OZ, but if they were, they would know how well this augurs for his performance as Othello. Add Wilson Milam's gritty directing, known recently for The Lieutenant of Inishmore and we may have a production of Othello as memorable as Olivier's.

For once, the costume is contemporary with Shakespeare, as is the racism and the sexism of the text. Several times I thought I could have been looking at portraits by Raphael as the Globe seamstresses achieve perfection. This is a play about "otherness" as Othello, despite being a great and successful commander, is discriminated against and resented. Desdemona, we are told, loved him for the dangers he has passed.

This play is as much about the motivation of the arch-villain Iago (Tim McInnerny) as the character of the duped Othello. Shakespeare's text is full of ambiguity on this point and allows for interpretation of Iago's agenda: the military subordinate who so resents his superior officer, the failed lover who is jealous of Othello's success with Desdemona and suspicious of his own wife, the manipulator of Othello's weakness, his lack of guile and a predisposition to jealousy. Tim McInnerny, known for his comic roles in Blackadder has to take care not to camp up the villainy. He uses strange head movements, part twitch, part cobra like, as a snake about to grab its prey. He munches away in an ugly mouth movement.

This is also a play about jealousy , such a destructive and immutable force which isn't any less of a problem today than it was for Cain and Abel. And Othello is about that most pervasive form of jealousy, sexual jealousy. It is terrible to watch anyone in the grip of jealousy and almost as terrible as feeling jealous, to be the innocent victim of another's unfounded jealousy, as is Desdemona (Zoë Tapper). It is the most destructive of emotions. I was struck by the conversations Desdemona and Emilia (Lorraine Burroughs) have about the nature of relationships between men and women. Again little has changed since Shakespeare's day. Othello is also about domestic violence and I have never seen Desdemona fight for her life as she does here in her struggle to escape.

The clarity of the speech and the spoken verse is impressive, very important in this outdoor venue which requires a different kind of acting from that for camera or smaller enclosed space.

Most of all, this is Eamonn Walker's night. He is magnificent, whether totally believably writhing in the throes of epilepsy or with his shoulders held tense and rolling as he struggles to handle the emotions Iago generates in his mind. Despite his military experience, in matters of marriage, Othello is an innocent, naïve and easily gulled by Iago. Iago even dictates the method of Desdemona's killing, when he suggests "strangle her". Eamonn Walker flashes his eyes like a trapped animal, as he bids farewell to his tranquil mind. Remarkable!
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Wilson Milam

Starring: Eamonn Walker, Tim McInnerny
With: John Stahl, Nick Barber, Sam Crane, Jonathan Newth, Nigel Hastings, Dickon Tyrell, Michael O'Hagan, Paul Lloyd, ZoëTapper, Lorraine Burroughs, Zawe Ashton, Michael Taihi, Ché Walker, Anthony Bailey, Gabby Wong, Fanos Xenofos
Design: Dick Bird
Composer: Stephen Warbeck
Choreographer: Siân Williams
Movement: Glynn Macdonald
Running time: One hour 50 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking to 19th August 2007
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th May 2007 performance at the Globe, New Globe Walk, London SE1 (Tube: London Bridge, St Pauls)
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