Page last updated at 12:08 GMT, Thursday, 19 February 2009

Press reviews: Henry's Othello

Lenny Henry as Othello
Henry is the right age to play Othello with his horror of his young wife's infidelity

Comedian Lenny Henry has touched theatre critics with his starring role in a new production of Shakespeare's Othello.

In a major change of career direction, the comic and TV presenter has made his stage debut as the tortured Moor, despite admitting he "didn't get" Shakespeare, whilst studying at school.

He said he was looking forward to bringing a lifetime's experience of racism to the role, which is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.


In the magnificent last, Henry delivers some of the greatest poetry Shakespeare ever wrote with clarity and depth of feeling and reaches the heart of a terrible sense of tragic loss.

This is one of the most astonishing debuts in Shakespeare I have ever seen. It is impossible to praise too highly Henry's courage in taking on so demanding and exposed a role, and then performing it with such authority and feeling.


Henry - who has grown a soldierly beard and shaved his head - looks the part of a great general. Towering over the rest of the cast he has an enormous physical presence that turns to animal magnetism.

His voice carries and, while his timing is sometimes still a little shaky, his verse-speaking can sing. The racial outsider stands dignified, rather than arrogantly, above the abuse thrust at him by his young wife's father.


Henry's Othello is the husband, tender and doting. He's the general, curt and tough. He's also the self-professed cuckold, breathless in his surprise, barking with rage, grief spreading over that big, open face of his.

I've seen Othellos that have more variety, delve deeper, fall in an epileptic-style fit more plausibly, and add much more texture to such key lines as (to Iago) "I am bound to thee forever".

But this decidedly isn't opportunistic casting.


Henry's voice may not always measure up to the rhetorical music of the verse, but there is a simple dignity to his performance that touches one: not least in his final confession when he sits on the corpse-laden bed lamenting his fate before wrenching a hidden dagger from its wooden post.

Henry deserves credit for extending his range and putting Othello squarely at the centre of the play. But little else in Barrie Rutter's production raises the temperature.

Othello runs from 14 February to 14 March at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and then tours the country.

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