(Michael Billington’s article appeared in The New Yorker, 6/13.)
Iqbal Khan’s gripping production has already made history by being the first at Stratford to cast a black actor as Iago. But I had not anticipated how many fascinating ideas such an imaginative piece of casting would provoke.
For a start, it reinforces the historic bond between Othello and Iago, and helps to explain the trust the former places in his ensign. By making Othello the commander of a multi-racial unit, Khan also exposes the unresolved tensions in the group: you can see exactly why Iago would detest a Caucasian Cassio who tries to show his kinship with the men by taking part in a rap contest during the Cypriot drinking scene. And one of Khan’s shrewdest touches, in this modern-dress production, is to dismantle the stereotype of Othello as the “noble Moor” by showing that he sanctions waterboarding by his troops and is prepared to use torture to get Iago to cough up details of Desdemona’s presumed infidelity.