Lucian Msamati makes history as the first black actor to play Iago at the RSC in this modern day production.

Traditionally played as a white character, this change offers different dynamic to the relationship between Moor and ensign in what is, at times, a compelling and brutal play.

The scenery is that of towering, crumbling stone pillars with lighting reflecting the change of location as they move from Venice to Cyprus. The clever and creative use of water centre stage - as a Venetian canal, a place of torture and as Desdemona’s bath - is wonderfully effective.

It is fascinating to see Hugh Quarshie’s Othello unravel from a restrained, measured and passionate man to the violent, jealous beast who has no qualms about inflicting torture on others.


The moment where he spins to land a dramatic punch on his wife’s head was shocking and caused gasps throughout the audience.

There are other grisly scenes, none more brutal than when Othello straps Iago to a chair and uses a hammer and suffocation to extract what he believes is the truth about his wife.

Msamati plays Iago as a joker, who uses his charm to satisfy his darker side, to manipulate everyone around him in order to see Othello crushed.

Joanna Vanderham makes her RSC debut as a young, confident Desdemona but it is Ayesha Dharker as Iago’s wife Emilia who really shines among the women as Desdemona’s companion.

The scene where the pair sing while Desdemona bathes is truly touching and, to me, the anticipation of the gruesome ending became more effective than the final scenes of devastation.

Runs until August 28.

Othello at the RSC

This review has now been updated