Theatre Review | Othello: Fatally Fractured Masculinity
By Ruby Fischer
Andre Holland and Jessica Warbeck find levity and grace as Othello and Desdemona, Photo: Simon Annand
When The Globe announced the cast of its latest production of Othello, I admit to wondering whether I had signed up for standing room at the Rylance-Holland Show. With two such beloved and celebrated leads — each bringing with him an army of devoted admirers — I imagined a sort of Shakespearean Clash of the Titans. What I saw was an artfully pared-down production which does intelligent and heartfelt work in service of a good story.
US actor Andre Holland (Moonlight, Selma) brings a warm elegance to a role (Othello) that he has long avoided, while Mark Rylance’s Iago, that most villainous of villains, is waggish, docile and, dare I say it, charming in his much-discussed Mario cap and baby-blue tunic.It is this characteristic generosity of spirit that makes Rylance so disturbing in this part. They are superbly matched and a satisfyingly rich story unfolds as Iago does what little is needed to unravel the fragile psyche of the troubled and, arguably, traumatised Othello.
Rylance - almost as famous as his tunic, Photo: Simon Annand
That they are brilliant is unsurprising. The kicker about this show is that they aren’t necessarily the most exciting part of the evening. Both Holland and Rylance tread lightly in their roles, favouring nuance of gesture over bullish gravitas, making room for the stellar performances around them.
Sheila Atim’s formidable Emilia is stunning in her already legendary canary-yellow jumpsuit while Steffan Donnelly is wonderfully fey as Roderigo. Jessica Warbeck finds a delightful humour within her tragic devotion to the Moor and Aaron Pierre makes a muscular debut as Cassio.
The casting is refreshingly gender and colour-blind, weaving together a complex and fascinating tale that finds itself nestled in the era of MeToo and Black Lives Matter, in which a world full of Iagos wreak their own kind of havoc. Race, it appears, is not the pivotal point of Claire van
Kampen’s dynamic rendition. The discussion this time around is of fractured masculinity, the devastation of war and evil in a funny hat. Sound familiar?