Johnny Gielgud. Larry Olivier. Ralph Richardson.
The works of Shakespeare have drawn great performances from some of the most respected, and most serious actors in history.
Now the world’s most famous playwright is set to have an unlikely West Midlands face appear in one of his most famous plays.
Dudley comedian Lenny Henry has gone from Tiswas to the tempest after taking on the title role in Othello.
The comedian is set to make his stage acting debut as the troubled Moor of Venice on a national tour next year, after being inspired to take up Shakespeare while appearing in a Hollywood film.
Henry, who turned 50 this year, said the role was a “new challenge” and “daunting”.
He was inspired to play the part after making the film True Identity in Los Angeles.
In the comedy, Henry plays an actor who wants a role in Othello but has to adopt the identity of a white man to escape the Mafia.
He said: “The sub-plot involved my character understudying (actor) James Earl Jones in the role of Othello.
“He and I discussed the role many times over the filming period, and as one of America’s premier black actors, I felt honoured to have the privilege of his wisdom.
“He told me that when the time was right I should jump in with both feet, work hard, keep my eyes and ears open and let the text do all the heavy lifting.”
He added: “I hope to get a diverse audience, people that haven’t been to the theatre before.
“I do see this as something I’m going to want to do more of.”
He said he was a huge fan of the theatre, and his wife Dawn French had appeared on stage a lot, adding: “I’ve seen her acting ability grow over the past 14 years and it clearly expands your brain.
“It’s like doing the Knowledge. It gives you gravitas.”
Henry’s Othello will form part of the spring season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds next year before going on a national tour with performances in Scarborough, Coventry, Bath, Kingston, Newcastle under Lyme and Halifax.
The production is a joint venture between the Northern Broadsides company, based in Halifax, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Barrie Rutter, who will be directing the new production, said: “I first met Lenny over a microphone whilst recording an Othello speech for Radio 4.
“Afterwards, Lenny declared to me that sitting with his back against a wall, learning lines in a company of actors was a strong desire of his.
“I didn’t need any prompting and two weeks later with West Yorkshire Playhouse on board as co-producers, we were able to offer Lenny a deal.”
Henry, who hit the limelight after winning the talent show New Faces in 1975, made a Radio 4 programme in 2006 about overcoming his schoolboy hatred of Shakespeare
On the programme he said: “It seemed to me that Shakespeare was very much in the province of posh people.
“I’m black, I’m from Dudley, I’m working-class. Shakespeare’s not for people like us.
“But then when you study it, the way I have been. You realise that it’s for everybody.”
Meanwhile, the Royal Shakespeare company is planning its own Othello production early next year.
Featuring Birmingham actor Patrice Naiambana in the lead role, it will be played at Coventry, Hackney, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford and Liverpool between January and March next year.