Theatre News

Lenny Henry Gets West End Othello Debut, 18 Sep

Comedian Lenny Henry, who made his stage acting debut in February in Othello at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse, will make his West End debut when, as previously tipped (See The Goss, 23 Apr 2009), the production transfers to Trafalgar Studios 1, where it will have a limited season from 18 September to 12 December 2009 (previews from 11 September).

The Northern Broadsides and WYP co-production, which visits the Rose Theatre Kingston this week as part of a national tour, is directed by Broadsides’ artistic director Barrie Rutter and received generally favourable reviews when it first opened, the Daily Telegraph‘s Charles Spencer dubbing Henry’s performance “one of the most astonishing debuts in Shakespeare I have ever seen” (See Review Round-up, 19 Feb 2009).

Though he’s confessed to having previously been “slightly allergic” to Shakespeare, Henry was first persuaded to collaborate with Rutter on an Othello workshop at Warwick after the performer interviewed Rutter for the BBC Radio Four series Lenny and Will. The experience “utterly convinced” Rutter that Henry could and should tackle the role, one of the Bard’s greatest tragic heroes.

Lenny Henry (pictured) rose to fame as a cult comedian, making his TV debut in 1975 on the New Faces talent show. He has been a regular television face ever since, appearing in shows including the BBC’s Three of a Kind, Chef!, The Lenny Henry Show, Hope and Glory and Lenny Henry in Pieces. On film his credits include True Identity, starring opposite James Earl Jones, who he’s credited as an “inspiration” in his decision to play Othello (Earl Jones has played the role on three separate occasions).

Henry is joined in the cast by Conrad Nelson (as Iago) and Jessica Harris (Desdemona), as well as David Beckford (Duke/Gratiano), Matt Connor (Roderigo), Andy Cryer (Montano), Victoria Gee (Bianca), Geoff Leesley (Brabantio), Chris Pearse (Herald), Simon Holland Roberts (Senator/Lodovico), Sara Poyzer (Emilia) and Richard Standing (Cassio). The male parts are cast from members of Broadsides’ long-serving ensemble.

This production of Othello was first seen in Leeds, from 14 February to 14 March 2009, and is now embarked on a two-month tour which concludes at Northern Broadsides’ home at the Viaduct in Halifax, where it runs from 5 to 9 May. It’s designed by Ruari Murchison, with costumes by Stephen Snell, lighting by Guy Hoare and music by Conrad Nelson (aka Iago), who has been the musical director/composer on almost every Broadsides production to date.

The company was founded by director Barrie Rutter in 1992. Based at the Dean Clough Mill in Halifax, Northern Broadsides has built up a loyal following after touring to venues including a former cattle market and derelict farm buildings throughout the Midlands. The West End transfer of Othello is presented by Sonia Friedman Productions.

Currently in Trafalgar Studios 1, the Chichester Festival Theatre production of Simon Gray’s posthumously-produced play The Last Cigarette – starring Felicity Kendal, Nicholas Le Prevost and Jasper Britton – opens 28 April 2009 (previews from 21 April) and is scheduled for a limited season to 1 August (See News, 27 Mar 2009).

– by Terri Paddock