CASTLEREAGH AND ABU-GRAIB RECALLED IN RSC OTHELLO by John Patton

 Johnson and co. are intent that the BBC will take all flak for withdrawing free TV licences from the over 75s.  The broadcaster is PR savvy and there are rumours that it may axe BBC4 or shift it online to pay for the shortfall, should public opinion force them to continue with the free licence policy. That would be wrong and unacceptable to a great many people who find content on BBC4 that is unavailable elsewhere.   It is a channel with culture and serious thinking at the heart of its mission; it showed that there was an audience for international, foreign language cinema; it provided a platform for many with an interest in music and serious documentary; Friday nights delighted popular music devotees with its provocative mix of concerts and biopics.

Last night it screened the landmark 2015 RSC production of Othello which broke new ground, casting a black actor, Lucian Msamati, as Iago. Blacked-up white actors, playing ethnic characters, have, hopefully, been consigned to history. British audiences lost the chance to see many fine black actors on stage because of preferential treatment for Caucasians; off abroad went  players of superlative ability – David Harewood, Lennie James and the magnificent Oyelowo are just three who departed. Racism rippled through this production from Rodrigo’s reference in the very first scene to ‘the thick lips’ and was central to the boozy, high jinks celebration and Msamati’s chilling, Shona folk song.  Atrocities by British forces in Castlereagh and Abu –Graib were invoked when Othello threatened to smother his officer with a plastic bag. Shakespeare’s enduring popularity is due in some measure to the  universality of content in his work. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the predominant emotion felt by the spurned Iago. Highly intelligent, scholarship boy, Michael Gove, is reputed to have been patronised by his posh friends at Oxford – Osborne, Cameron and Johnson. If he is the wily, scheming and plotting Iago, waiting for revenge, then Cummings is the spuriously liberal Cassio.

The tragic, pitiful corpse of Desdemona is broken Britain in a post-Brexit World.

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