By Aisling Lally
As one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, Othello has had a rich performance history since its first appearance in the early seventeenth century.
Below are five notable twenty-first-century adaptations to enhance your knowledge of the play's performance history.
1. 2001: Television film adaptation, directed by Geoffrey Sax
Othello, directed by Geoffrey Sax, is a 2001 television film starring Christopher Eccleston, playing Ben Jago (a corrupt police officer) and Eamonn Walker, playing John Othello. It is a modern English adaptation of Shakespeare’s text, which is set in London against a backdrop of racial discrimination in the police force.
Daniel Rosenthal in the Guardian notes that "[Geoffrey Sax's] screenplay distills the essence of Shakespeare's tragedy while jettisoning some characters, and skilfully reshapes the original storyline to fit a 2001 mould."
2. 2008, 2014 and 2022: Frantic Assembly
Frantic Assembly received critical acclaim in 2008 and 2014 with their production of a contemporary and dynamic Othello set in a West Yorkshire pub. Highlighting themes of paranoia, betrayal, and murder, The Independent described the adaptation as “a pulsating production that hurls Othello well and truly into our times”.
A Frantic Assembly Othello Educational Pack is available here.
3. 2015: Royal Shakespeare Company
Iqbal Khan’s groundbreaking 2015 production of Othello starred Lucian Msamati as Iago and Hugh Quarshie as Othello. Michael Billington praised the production for being the first to cast a black actor as Iago, Ciaran Bagnall’s design “emphasising the text’s aquatic motif”, and Akintayo Akinbode’s “percussive score”. Ultimately, Billington suggests, these elements of the RSC’s production “makes us see a familiar tragedy from a totally fresh perspective”.
4. 2018: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Clare van Kampen‘s 2018 production of Othello, starring Mark Rylance as Iago and André Holland in the titular role, was praised for its precision in “getting to the heart of the play” (Michael Billington, the Guardian, 2018). Billington described Rylance’s Iago as “a man whose perturbed nature expresses itself purely through demolition.” Moreover, Matt Trueman described the piece as “an incisive Othello for the era of identity politics and racial resentment”.
5. 2021: National Youth Theatre REP Company
The National Youth Theatre Rep Company’s 2021 production was widely praised for its “fresh perspectives and ferocious performances energis[ing] Shakespeare’s tragedy of race, patriarchy and fragile masculinity” (The Stage, 2021). Set in the early 90s rave scene, the company’s retelling of Othello centred on the themes of love, jealousy, misogyny and racism through the lens of crime and power.
Free Educational Resources from the National Youth Theatre are available here.
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