The theme of this year’s Globe season is Renaissance and Revolution. It’s a strange theme: the only thing that Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Love Labour’s Lost appear to have in common is that they are set in Shakespeare’s own time – although much the same could be said for a large proportion of his plays.
After last year’s Globe Roman season – which left me distinctly underwhelmed - I was a bit apprehensive about returning to the venue, usually one of my favourites. I was soon reassured.
I couldn’t call Wilson Milam’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). Perhaps they were attracted by the play itself, but, after a shaky start, the production certainly got better.
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 can be complaints about Tim McInnerny’s Iago audibility: every word – even in the harsh cockpit of the Globe – could be heard. McInnerny eschews the recent fashion to portray Iago as a bluff-speaking NCO and is a rather more conventional villain, albeit one with a humorous touch. One can certainly see how this Iago could charm and flatter his way into people’s confidence. What’s missing though is an understanding of why he hates Othello so. There’s no notion of a homo-erotic attraction and there’s no sign of any deep racism. It’s an attractive performance but a rather two-dimensional one.
I wasn’t too impressed with some of the other performances either. There’s a rather bland Desdemona from Zoe Tapper, Sam Crane’s Roderigo looks like a refugee from a 1980s New Romantic band and seems rather too foppish, and Nick Barber’s Cassio doesn’t convince. But there’s a sparky Emilia (or Aemilia as this production has it) from Lorraine Burroughs, and John Stahl is a suitably irate Brabantio, spitting venom about Othello.
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.