Othello: A Play in Black and White

“If you thought Buz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet was post-modern, you stand corrected. Roysten Abel’s Othello goes a few steps ahead”

The Pioneer, India, April 1999

The Style of the Play

Roysten Abel takes William Shakespeare’s Othello and places it in a company of Indian actors who do English theatre. The milieu of the actors being a very affluent one is disturbed when a Kathakali trained actor (a traditional Indian dance form) is given the lead role of Othello, hence the plot of the play and the plot of the company are on similar lines. This gives ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ the magic of Shakespeare entering into the life of the actors where the lines of acting and the lines of living get crossed to create various different sparks of theatricality.

The Plot of the Play

An English theatre company based in New Delhi invites a guest director for their upcoming production of Othello that will be an interpretation of this Shakespeare’s tragedy using the traditional Indian dance form Kathakali. The aspirations of both the senior and junior members of the company are unmet as the director; Roy; casts Adil, the Kathakali trainer to be Othello. Adil is an actor from rural India who is considered an outsider by the majority of the company members on account of his lower linguistic, racial and socio economic status. Barry, the senior-most actor in the company thus loses the lead role and is offered the role of Iago. As rehearsals progress, Adil falls in love with Kristen, the actress playing Desdemona and meanwhile, and the disappointed Barry starts acting like an Iago in real life, bringing to Adil’s notice, Kristen’s ambiguous relationship with the actor playing Cassio. The situations of the play Othello, now bear an uncanny resemblance to the real life of the actors and slowly the lives of the characters and the actors becomes blurred, reality becomes rehearsals and the rehearsals become reality to a point where one does not know whether it is Othello killing Desdemona or the actor killing the actress.

The Journey of Othello

‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ was initially commissioned by the British Council in India and after its success in Delhi, Steven Berkof recommended it to the Edinburgh festival and it went on to win a Scotsman Fringe First, one of ten plays amongst a thousand. From there it went on to become a bigger success and has gone on to perform at the Cairo International festival, the Harare International festival, the Riverside theatre in London, the Biennale Bonn in Bonn and the Lille 3000. It traveled to Paris in 2007 and Amsterdam and Belgium in 2008.

“Adil Hussain playing Othello is the best piece of Shakespearean acting I have ever seen including Peter Brooks Tempest”

The Scotsman, August 1999