×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: ‘Othello’ With Mark Rylance, Andre Holland

Rylance and Holland lead an incisive 'Othello' for the era of identity politics and racial resentment.

With:
Sheila Atim, Catherine Bailey, William Chubb, Steffan Donnelly, André Holland, Micah Loubon, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Aaron Pierre, Mark Ryalnce, Clemmie Sveaas, Badria Timimi, Jessica Warbeck.

From his unhinged Hamlet to a sympathetic Richard III, Mark Rylance has always been a great re-inventor of Shakespeare’s key roles. Now, returning to the Globe in “Othello” after a few years away (not to mention an Oscar win for “Bridge of Spies”), he flips the figure of Iago on his head. Instead of a master manipulator pulling on Othello’s puppet strings, he gives us a lowly, servile soldier outsmarting his superior officer. It’s an idiosyncratic, daredevil performance, one that risks tipping too far into the sort of crowd-pleasing comedy the Globe encourages, but ultimately it proves pivotal to an inspired political reading of the play.

Directed by Claire van Kampen and crisply cut, this is an “Othello” for the era of identity politics and intersectionality; an “Othello” that’s all about race but as rooted in resentment as outright racism. It’s keenly attuned to the structural hierarchies of gender and class, too. Jonathan Fensom’s deceptive design might look like a fable, with Nutcracker toy soldiers in brass-buttoned uniforms and floaty, fashionable frocks for the wives, but it conceals the intricate, real-world politics lurking beneath, as Rylance’s bucolic Iago gets Andre Holland’s cosmopolitan Othello to unravel.

Dressed in a gorgeous blue and bronze military jacket, Holland’s Othello is all polish and gloss. Retaining his American accent — and I can’t remember hearing Shakespeare spoken as such in England, let alone at the Globe — his speeches become buttery-smooth: Othello the orator summoning “a world of sighs” in a voice like soft jazz. He’s a refined, articulate presence; a man of upstanding morality who steps in to break up a rowdy mess party with a cool, authoritative fury. Holland plays him with stillness and grace.

Rather than a trusted second officer, near equal enough to have Othello’s ear, Rylance’s Iago becomes a sidekick of sorts: Sancho Panza to Holland’s quixotic Moor. In a faded uniform that no longer fits, a Trump-red soldier’s cap sat jauntily on his head, Rylance cuts a slightly foolish figure. With a burr-ish Bristolian accent and a disjointed mode of speech, he stoops as he scuttles about — so submissive that no-one begins to suspect him of scheming. It’s a comic attitude, all blustering, fumbling genuflection, but one that sharpens the dramatic irony of Iago’s dismissal by those that assume him a simple, honest sort. More fool them: imagine if Manuel from “Fawlty Towers” had been buffing up on his Machiavelli.

Iago’s relationship with Othello here mirrors that of master and slave, only subtly inverted along racial lines. At one point, Holland raises a cudgel over Iago’s cowering head and he mixes curt, impersonal commands with a mockery of a soldier he treats like a servant. “We cannot all be masters,” Iago muses early on, but it’s easy to see how his constant submission breeds such contempt.

That dynamic finds a counter in Desdemona’s tender relationship with her maid Emilia. Changing for bed, Jessica Warbeck slips off her shoes to save her servant from stooping and Sheila Atim, dressed just as well as her mistress, waits on her with dignity, if not equality.

Van Kampen exposes a toxic masculinity throughout, with both men treating their wives like possessions. As Holland’s Othello spirals into suspicion, the veneer of civility gives way to something vicious and irrational. Even when he goes to strangle his wife, she smiles despite his announcing her fate, imagining him to have come to his senses with a cuddle. It’s this underlying violence Iago sets out to expose, behind Othello’s adopted airs and graces, and it lends the tragic conclusion a real potency — not least when Atim’s fervent Emilia gets the last, damning word. Even if excessive comic asides almost derail its serious intent, this is an incisive “Othello” for our times.

London Theater Review: 'Othello' With Mark Rylance, Andre Holland

Shakespeare’s Globe, London; 1557 seats; £47, $61 top. Opened, Aug 1,2018, reviewed Aug 1, 2018. Running time: 2 HOURS, 40 MIN.

Production: A Shakespeare Globe production of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Claire van Kampen; Design, Jonathan Fensom; choreographer, Antonia Franceschi; music director, Bill Barclay; fight directors, Rachel Brown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown.

Cast: Sheila Atim, Catherine Bailey, William Chubb, Steffan Donnelly, André Holland, Micah Loubon, Ira Mandela Siobhan, Aaron Pierre, Mark Ryalnce, Clemmie Sveaas, Badria Timimi, Jessica Warbeck.

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. More Reviews Film Review: 'Don't Come Back from the Moon' Palm Springs Review: [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content