Not so funny anymore

Few would have expected Northern Broadsides’ decision to cast LennyHenry in one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing tragic roles, the titular character of Othello.

The overriding question: would Henry crash and burn in front of us, or would he produce a great performance?

Henry certainly has a commanding presence on the stage. In the final scenes as Othello descends into mad fury, the audience seem genuinely terrified. A gasp of horror arose during the Moor’s physical brutality towards Desdemona.

Conversely as Othello the lover, Henry’s performance was soft and sincere. It is his inability to balance these two sides of the character which let’s down Henry’s performance. There is no believable progression from love to murder. It meant that much of Shakespeare’s poetry was lost.

Performances given by Nelson’s cast suffice as an ensemble but were somewhat two-dimensional, seemingly overwhelmed by the star. Set and costume were wonderfully colourful but somewhat difficult to place.

The production finds its true voice in Conrad Nelson’s Iago, Nelson played a charming, likeable and enticing character; the was the saving grace of the performance.

It was through him that the audience were able to see the cogs of the plot working and helping the proceedings gain a pace and tension that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

Nelson’s Othello has inevitably become ‘the Lenny Henry show’, and fails to live up to the hype, even if it is an admirable attempt. Without Henry’s comic reputation dominating the production, this would be both fascinating and exciting.


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