RSC Live: Othello at Picturehouse@FACT, Liverpool

Posted on 27 August 2015
By Chris High
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The live screenings of some of the world’s great plays – not just those written by William Shakespeare – are something vital, enjoyable and always vibrant in the luxurious surroundings of Liverpool’s Picturehouse@FACT, and non-more so than this highly acclaimed RSC production of Othello.

The play, often seen as being vehemently racist in its depictions and language, is undoubtedly one of the Bard’s most tragic of tragedies, with its searing plot centred on themes of trust and doubt and suspicion being interwoven with a microscopic analysis of the human psyche as whole, so that the audience continually asks itself the questions: Who am I, what am I, why am I like this and what can I do to change for the better?

Here, mankind’s darkest soul is stripped bare with barbs of razor sharp jealousy, brilliantly drip fed by the immaculate performance delivered by Lucian Msamati in the role of Iago, surely Shakespeare’s most villainous, self-serving and twisted villain. In casting a black Iago – and indeed his wife, Emilia, with Indian actress Ayesha Dharker, whose own performance is as intense as it is powerful – Iqbal Khan has pulled off a masterstroke of interpretation. With Msamati’s darting eyes, perfectly timed quips and mannerisms, along with some pit-dark malevolence, Khan has ensured that his Othello becomes less about race and more about the mirror images within our inner selves, thereby making the conceits and deceits that transpire all the more heart-wrenching.

As a beautifully coquettish Desdemona, Joanna Vanderham shines like a beacon in the half-light provided by the simply stunning designs of Ciaran Bagnall, so that hers becomes the only real character to offer hope, until ultimately this too is snuffed out in all too brutal a fashion. With Jacob Lloyd-Fortune superb as a pompously naïve Cassio off-set by a Hugh Laurie-esque, deliciously foppish portrayal of Roderigo being delivered by a fabulous James Corrigan, then the stage is literally set for one sumptuous evening of crime and misdemeanour.

Yet without The Moor himself – as Msamati so lusciously hisses with great cynicism and hatred each time he utters the name – there is no Othello and in Hugh Quarshie, Khan could not have selected better. Here is an actor who commands attention at every turn, as his initial enlightened joy all too soon unravels into maddened, envious darkness with such smooth grace, power and frightening credibility, it is a performance to devour and savour like fine white wine served chilled on a summer’s evening.

This, then, is a sumptuous production, dripping with intrigue, darkness and light at every turn and the encore showings it will receive in due course at Picturehouse@FACT are an absolute must. For all who appreciate that it not necessarily the plays that have survived for over 400 years but rather the stories they tell and that, therefore, their themes can successfully change with the times, the accessibility of these Live broadcasts provide the opportunity for all to enjoy these productions in all their glory, with next being Henry V on October 21st.

RSC Live: Othello
Picturehouse@FACT Liverpool
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Iqbal Khan
Set & Lighting: Ciaran Bagnall
Cast Includes: Hugh Quarshie, Joanna Vanderham, Lucian Msamati, Ayesha Dharker, Jacob Fortune- Lloyd, James Corrigan, Nadia Albina, Scarlett Brookes
Running Time: 3 hours 10 mins
PR Rating: ***** Unforgettable