Lenny Henry Plays Othello

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BBC Radio 4, 20 February 2009
Between October 2008 and January 2009, the comedian Lenny Henry spent much of his time rehearsing for his Shakespearean debut in Othello at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, in a production for Northern Broadsides directed by Barrie Rutter. This half-hour documentary took the form of an audio diary, describing Henry's struggles with the text while performing all those other tasks expected of a leading actor - physical training, costume-fittings, fight instruction and vocal exercises. Needless to say Henry found the experience traumatic; he was not only making his debut as a classical actor, but also grappling with a dramatist whom he had hated at school. However time had altered his opinions; although occasionally intimidated by the demands placed on him by the Shakespearean text, Henry stuck to his task and by the end of rehearsals had produced a thoroughly convincing interpretation of the Moor. His vocal technique was supply yet incisive, rendering Shakespeare's lines immediately comprehensible. I was only sorry that we were given short extracts from his performance in the programme; I love to hear the whole production in the future.
What emerged most tangibly from this programme was Henry's dedication to his task. He might come across on television as a cheeky chappie, full of quips and wry asides; but beneath that surface lurks a true professional with an enduring concern for his craft. Henry might not be a classically trained performer, but his theatrical instincts give him the power to cope with any type of performance, whether tragic or comic. I earnestly hope that he will take on more classical parts in the future.