Eamonn Walker last week (24 May 2007, previews from 4 May) became the first black actor to play the title role in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe. It’s the first time the play has been mounted at the modern replica, now in its tenth anniversary season, of the bard’s 17th-century theatre.
Directed by Wilson Milam, this production of Othello employs Renaissance staging, costume and music. It continues in rep until 19 August 2007 as part of artistic director Dominic Dromgoole’s Renaissance + Revolution summer season. The case also features Zoe Tapper as Desdemona and Tim McInnerny as Iago.
Overall the critical response was positive. However, Walker – who in 2001 played John Othello opposite Christopher Ecclestone’s Jago in a modern television adaptation of the play directed by Andrew Davies – and his co-stars struggled to hold the attention of some critics for the three-hour plus performance despite mostly admirable performances. One critic considered the casting of comic actor McInnerny (best remembered from TV’s Blackadder) in the role of Iago as “bold” but went on to fear the event “finds levity in unexpected places”. Another hailed Tapper's Desdemona as "perfection".
Maxwell Cooter for Whatsonstage.com (three stars) – “I couldn’t call Wilson Millam’s Othello a triumph. But it’s a clear, fast-paced (perhaps a bit too fast-paced at the start) rendition. Despite its length of the three-and-a-quarter hours, the vast majority of groundlings stayed to the end (which isn’t always the case at the Globe). At first, Eamonn Walker’s Othello seemed a long way from the charismatic general on whom Venice was pinning its hopes. Far too much of his speech was inaudible and too much was rushed, the great speech of how he won Desdemona’s heart particularly suffered from this. However, eventually Walker found his voice and the last scenes were played out to a hushed audience. There’s nothing revolutionary about this production, but it’s a good way to start the new season. And I sense that it will get better as the actors find their feet.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent - “In this Elizabethan-dress staging, Walker cuts a charismatic, effortlessly glamorous figure, with brooding, incipiently dangerous presence. He charts the hero's capitulation to murderous jealousy and disintegration with a vivid physicality, collapsing in an epileptic fit that visibly unnerved the front row of female groundlings as he looked set to roll off the stage. The tension in Othello between nobility and naïvety, genuine grandeur and grandiosity are well conveyed on that level. What's disappointing is his lacklustre treatment of the verse. Tim McInnerny is a robust Iago with a sure instinct for how to work the Globe audience. As Desdemona, Zoe Tapper is at once enchanting, transparently honest and more mettlesome than is usually the case with this heroine. The production is lucid and forthright, but there are few fresh insights.”
Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (three stars) – “For the three hours of Othello, the ripple of movement was ceaseless. Which isn't to say there is anything particularly wrong with Wilson Milam's take on this tightly coiled spring of sexual jealousy, just that there's nothing especially exciting about it either. Three actors offer notes towards superlative performances, without managing to sustain their excellence over five acts. In the great Act Three doubt-planting exchange with Othello, McInnerny cedes ground to Eamonn Walker, who manages a fine line in surety assailed, which nonetheless dwindles towards the climax. Here, Lorraine Burroughs' outraged Emilia takes control, a voice of clarity in the eddying madness. Zoe Tapper's bland Desdemona speaks at half the speed of everyone else, which is rather like listening to a Teach Yourself Iambic Pentameters tape. After the bedroom carnage, the entire cast pick themselves up for a merry jig at the curtain call. Scrupulously authentic; definitively jarring.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (four stars) – “To cast as wicked Iago an actor well-known for comedy is a bold move, but this production of Othello finds levity in unexpected places. It makes for an interesting night's entertainment - albeit without the purgative effect of a really brutal tragedy. McInnerny is admittedly an unusual Iago. So often this part goes to a lean, handsome brooder, strong in the jaw-clenching department. It makes a happy change to find this one a plain, balding, unathletic figure close to failure. Roderigo, frequently a dud of a role, is done with great comic vanity by a lad called Sam Crane. We may well hear plenty more from him in the next few years. Othello is a play that has changed with our country. Twenty-five years ago it was hard to avoid the shock of the race difference, of alabaster-skinned Desdemona eloping with the 'monkey' Moor. Today it feels a secondary issue, if that. McInnerny's bewitching performance also prompts thoughts about the mental wellbeing of Iago. For a character to generate laughter and then to behave so despicably is surely something that would interest a 21st-century shrink.”
Kate Kellaway in the Observer - "Desdemona is perfection - the best I have ever seen. Zoe Tapper has exquisite diction (a useful gift when you are having to throw your voice across the Globe) and the composed beauty of a Titian portrait. But most of all it is her graceful confidence that is winning. She is so sure of Othello that it is agony to see her extinguished. Tim McInnerny has been brilliantly cast as Iago. Superficially, he is in no way sinister. Like all the best confidence tricksters he seems more honest than the next man. He is laddishly middle-aged and rubicund. It is easy to imagine him enjoying a pint down at the tavern. Deceiving Othello, his tone is depressed, apologetic, jumpy. Anyone would believe him. You'd trust him with your life - or wife. Meanwhile, Iago's own wife, Emilia (Lorraine Burroughs), is sensational. Her hysteria in the final scene seems to harvest all the stored pain of the play."
- by Malcolm Rock