Thursday, February 3, 2011

American Iago

From the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre 100th Season (1959) Souvenir Programme:
OTHELLO directed by Tony Richardson

Paul Robeson, a world-famous Othello, has played the part three times before, once in London, twice in America. His rare and intense power has not been seen on the English stage in twenty-three years.

Mary Ure, Desdemonda, has shone in (John Osborne's) "Look Back in Anger".

Sam Wanamaker as Iago. During eight years in England this brilliant American actor-director has done consistently original work. His imaginative enterprise gave the New Shakespeare Theatre Liverpool a distinguished life.
Oh, and Cassio? Twenty-three year-old Albert Finney.

The former performance of Othello by Robeson in London was with Peggy Ashcroft the 1930. Twenty-nine years later, however, Robeson "was Othello but, alas, the years and his persecutions had left their mark and he no longer had the energy and the technique he once had," according to director Richardson.

However, rather than pick on the legendary performer, critics had knives out for the other American, Wanamaker, who was taken to task for his "gangster" performance.

"Iago should be disarming. Mr. Wanamaker ... is profoundly arming."
- Kenneth Tynan

Ironically - or perhaps, poetically - Sam Wanamaker never played Stratford again.

Source: This Wooden 'O' (Barry Day)

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