It ish't ’cos Othello is black...


Metro (UK) - - WEEKEND -

BACK in 2015, it was a big de­ci­sion for Holby City star Hugh Quarshie to take leave from the show af­ter 14 years, to play the lead in Shake­speare’s Othello – a play Hugh ad­mits he never liked. ‘I re­sisted do­ing it for many years,’ he says.

The Bri­tish-Ghana­ian ac­tor, who plays Ric Grif­fin in the med­i­cal drama, is speak­ing on Skype from his north­west Lon­don home where he has been shar­ing lock­down with his Swedish wife An­nika and two of their three chil­dren, Freya and Cas­par.

‘I’ve al­ways thought that a play writ­ten by a white man 400 years ago, for an­other white man in black­face make-up, re­ally didn’t have much to say about the black con­di­tion or black con­scious­ness,’ he ex­plains.

Yet, Hugh

(inset) al­lowed him­self ‘to be per­suaded’ to play Othello, the wise, ju­di­cious black gen­eral of the

Vene­tian army who mur­ders his wife in a jeal­ous rage on the flim­si­est of ev­i­dence that she has been un­faith­ful.

Now a filmed record­ing of Iqbal Khan’s crit­i­cally ac­claimed Royal Shake­speare Com­pany (RSC) pro­duc­tion has been given a new lease of life on iPlayer, as part of the BBC’s Cul­ture In Quar­an­tine pro­gramme – just as the Black Lives Mat­ter (BLM) move­ment is forc­ing a re­assess­ment of the way in which black peo­ple are rep­re­sented in cul­ture and wider so­ci­ety. It will also be broad­cast on BBC Four on Sun­day evening. The point of the pro­duc­tion was to ‘re­move any sug­ges­tion that Othello be­haves as he does be­cause he’s black’, says Hugh, 65. Cru­cial to that ob­jec­tive was the cast­ing of Lu­cian Msamati (Sal­lad­hor in Game Of Thrones) as the vil­lain Iago, mak­ing him the first black ac­tor to play the role in an RSC pro­duc­tion. ‘I’m es­pe­cially glad it is be­ing shown at this time,’ says Hugh. ‘I hope it will lead to a re­assess­ment of the play and the pro­duc­tion. Shake­speare is only worth do­ing if it sheds light on the way we live and think to­day.’ Per­haps the same is true of com­edy, and Holby City’s long­est-serv­ing ac­tor has no qualms over the likes of Lit­tle Bri­tain be­ing pulled from ser­vices such as iPlayer and Net­flix. ‘It was a bit sur­pris­ing it was there in the first place,’ Hugh says, of David Wal­liams’ and Matt Lu­cas’ break­through show. ‘It’s stag­ger­ing that The Black And White Min­strel Show re­mained on tele­vi­sion un­til 1978,’ he adds.

‘It was al­most ten years af­ter Wood­stock, the Rolling Stones free con­cert and the Paris ri­ots of 1968. All th­ese events sug­gested mod­ern so­ci­ety had taken a great leap for­ward. It hadn’t.’

Does Hugh think to­day’s events are the be­gin­ning of gen­uine change? His an­swer is as cau­tious as it is hope­ful. ‘It was re­ally en­cour­ag­ing to see the top­pling of the Colston statue,’ he says

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