Othello - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photo by Johan Persson

Othello at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – Reviews Round-up

Reviews are coming in from London critics for Othello at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London starring Ken Nwosu.

Ola Ince’s new production of Othello stars Ken Nwosu (The Winter King, An Octoroon) as Othello, Ralph Davis (A Streetcar Named Desire) as Iago, Poppy Gilbert (Private Lives) as Desdemona, and Ira Mandela Siobhan (Mlima’s Tale) as Subconscious Othello, alongside Charlotte Bate as Emilia, Oli Higginson as Cassio, David Hounslow as Commissioner / Montano, Maggie Musgrove as Bianca, Sam Swann as Roderigo, and Ché Walker as Brabantio / Lodovico.

The creative team also includes Prime Issac – Assistant Director/Writer; Anna Watson – Candlelight Designer; Renell Shaw – Composer; Olivia Ward – Costume Supervisor; Amelia Jane Hankin – Designer; Yarit Dor – Fight and Intimacy Director; Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster – Movement Director; Annamette Verspeak – Voice and Text; Casting Becky Paris – Head of Casting at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Othello is playing at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe until 13 April 2024.

Read reviews from the Evening Standard, The Stage, and more, with further reviews to be added.

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Othello reviews

The Evening Standard

"Arresting update set in the toxic Met Police feels horribly credible"

"This intimate, powerful production transposed from Venice to the Met in London refreshes the play and feels horribly credible"

"In Ola Ince’s intimate, powerful production, Shakespeare’s study of envy, racism and misogyny is transposed with depressing ease from 16th century Venice to the contemporary Metropolitan Police. If one bold concept weren’t enough, Ken Nwosu’s DCI Othello also wrestles at moments of high emotion with an identically-clad Subconscious Othello (Ira Mandela Siobhan). Both ideas refresh the play, and both also require awkward workarounds. Fortunately, the show has a steely, relentless pace despite its three-hour running time, and it is acted with depth and conviction by the core cast."

"Nwosu has a generic London accent, and the verse sounds all the fresher for his plain-spokenness: he is chilling in his later wrath, wrenching in his regret. Poppy Gilbert’s demure Desdemona shows flashes of fire, arresting his arm when he tries to strike her a second time and warning: “I have not deserved this.”"

"I was compelled throughout, though, and believed in Othello’s duping and his descent into madness, which isn’t always the case."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Guardian

"Shakespeare’s tragedy interrogated in New Scotland Yard"

"Ola Ince’s production is set within a hostile modern police force and has DCI Othello’s unconscious portrayed by a second actor"

"Shakespeare’s military genius is reborn as a 21st-century detective chief inspector in Ola Ince’s modern-dress production. Iago is his sergeant, spurred into a hateful campaign against the “guvnor” because of Cassio’s promotion over his own. Unfolding in New Scotland Yard, amid a hostile white police force, it might seem gimmicky and designed to appeal to Jed Mercurio fans. But this is inspired revisionism by Ince, who brazenly turned Romeo and Juliet into a violent comedy, of sorts, with signs about knife crime, also at the Globe theatre."

"More problematically, the realism of the police procedural butts up against this more surreal, expressionistic element, and sometimes jars. Nwosu makes Othello convincingly modern but the divided self also seems to take away from the freight of his performance."

"Ralph Davis makes for a strong Iago, compelling in his ordinariness, and Higginson’s Cassio is upstanding without being priggish. There is great musicality too, with songs and a score that is jazzy at times, foreboding at others."

"At over three hours, the tension drops, although the play never loses its potency and offers a genuinely new, exciting experience."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Telegraph

"Shakespeare’s tragedy retooled as a study of police racism"

"This staging reduces the Moor to a series of socially determined cause-and-effects, though the horror of his fall does register powerfully"

"Clint Dyer’s 2022 revival of Othello at the National accentuated the play’s racial elements in ways many previous productions had not. Ince, who has form in recasting Shakespeare plays as 21st-century social documents (her revival of Romeo and Juliet at the same venue framed the play as a modern-day teenage mental health crisis) goes much further. Nwosu’s Othello – decent if not the most obviously commanding of leaders – is plagued throughout by his Subconscious (Ira Mandela Siobhan)."

"Yet there is the nagging feeling that Ince has gamed the text in her favour. And while she paints a horribly persuasive portrait of the Met, it’s sometimes at the expense of an equally persuasive reading of the play. For all the nuance and humanity that Nwosu brings to Othello, this Moor feels reduced to a series of socially determined cause-and-effects."

"What you do get is the sheer horror of what that fall entails. This sparklingly clear, at times thrillingly pacy production convincingly argues that Othello is as much a play about men who kill women as it is about race."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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The Stage

"Intriguing but incomplete"

"Powerful performances elevate this psychologically rich but overstuffed production"

"Reframing Shakespeare’s story of deceit and deadly jealousy as an explicit response to systemic racism within the Metropolitan Police, Ola Ince’s bold production is stuffed with intriguing but incompletely explored ideas."

"Nwosu’s Othello subtly and constantly code-switches, changing registers when addressing superior officers, barking orders to the men under his command, or affectionately bantering with Poppy Gilbert’s prickly, prideful Desdemona."

"Ralph Davis makes a horribly believable Iago, hiding his bitterness and bigotry beneath a supportive, laddish facade."

"A sequence in which Othello’s squad of police officers blow off steam, depicts them lounging about with guitars, singing ballads and boisterous drinking songs. The seemingly relaxed scene reveals seething tensions in telling glances, watchfulness or aggressively yelled lyrics. For all the big ideas squeezed in, it is in these unforced moments, focused on subtle character dynamics, that Ince’s production works best."

Dave Fargnoli, The Stage
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The Observer

"Ola Ince’s Met police Othello makes horrible sense"

"In Black-lives-don’t-matter London, Othello is a top cop in the Met. Amelia Jane Hankin’s design is iron-clad and dark; the air crackles with racism on walkie-talkies. There are nifty verbal adjustments, with references to Scotland Yard and Docklands, and clumping changes: does Desdemona have to be Dezzie?"

"Ince’s relocation makes horrible sense, giving steely conviction to Othello’s joshing, violent subordinates. Ralph Davis is a convincing Iago, an instinctive resenter as much as a plotter"

"The least rewarding part of Othello is split between Ken Nwosu – straightforward, calm – and Ira Mandela Siobhan who, as “Subconscious Othello”, writhes beside Nwosu, shuddering, sometimes echoing, sometimes restraining him. This strikingly dramatises Othello’s opacity but slightly detracts from the role’s possibilities, suggesting an actor can convey only one thing at a time."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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The Times

"The Moor becomes a Met copper"

"If only so many random effects weren’t thrown in our face. In a scattergun evening, our doomed hero’s words aren’t sufficient to convey his inner turmoil; he requires a second, “subconscious” Othello, an anguished figure who writhes on the floor and even, at times, grapples with him. It’s the kind of brash conceit we’ve come to expect from the director Ola Ince"

"... Ince’s desire to make the piece more accessible still leads to some jarring moments."

"If the intimate, candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse helps to generate an aura of suspicion and duplicity, it’s still hard to keep track of all the 21st-century embellishments. Nor does it help that some cast members often snatch at their lines; in a venue as small as this we shouldn’t have to lean forward to try to catch every phrase."

"Higginson makes the strongest impression of all, alongside Charlotte Bate’s Emilia; both seem at ease with the verse-speaking."

Clive Davis, The Times
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"Ola Ince’s overambitious take on Shakespeare’s tragedy gets bogged down in two different high concepts"

"Reframing ‘Othello’ as a police procedural in which Shakespeare’s Moorish general is a high-ranking officer at the Met is an inspired notion from director Ola Ince. It injects a note of campy, thrillery fun into what tends to be a rather dour play. And the Met’s dismal record on race feels like the perfect way to dig into the themes of the tragedy."

"Unfortunately, it soon gets hopelessly tangled up in itself, in large part because Ince throws a second elaborate conceit into the mix: Othello’s subconscious is a character, played by Ira Mandela Siobhan... I’m not saying this is a terrible idea per se. But in the context of a production already preoccupied with homaging cop dramas? It’s a terrible idea."

"Finally, and sorry to say it, but ‘Othello’ needs world-class actors. Davis doesn’t really have the chops for Iago, one of Shakespeare’s greatest and most complicated characters: he never really sells us on why he hates Othello so. Nwosu’s Othello has his moments but his abrupt descent into murderous rage doesn’t convince, and his performance feels severely hampered by having another guy on stage acting out his inner feelings, as if he himself wasn’t up to the challenge."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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📷 Main photo: Othello - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Photo by Johan Persson

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