It ish't ’cos Othello is black...
HOLBY CITY STAR HUGH QUARSHIE TELLS JOHN NATHAN WHAT FINALLY PERSUADED HIM TO TAKE ON THE ROLE THAT HE NEVER WANTED TO PLAY
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.
(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