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From Holby City to Othello: Hugh Quarshie is the star

SHAKESPEARE REVIVAL: Othello (left) played by Hugh Quarshie and Iago, played by Lucian Msamati

IT MAY have taken the best part of a decade to persuade actor Hugh Quarshie to put down his scalpel as surgeon Ric Griffin in the BBC hospital soap Holby City and take up the role of Shakespeare’s Othello, but it was all well worth waiting for.

The 60-year-old actor, sporting a six-pack, even shows off some snake-hipped rap moves in this latest production of the famous tragedy at Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

You can see why the beautiful blonde Desdemona, played by Joanna Vanderham, fell for a much older man, despite angering her father if Othello was in as great a shape a Quarshie.

He gives a mesmerising performance alongside Lucian Msamati, of Game of Thrones, who makes history as the first black Iago, General Othello’s scheming, villainous standard bearer.

These major roles put two black actors in the driving seat of the play. In doing so director Iqbal Khan turns on its head the character of Iago who has traditionally been portrayed as a bigoted racist for the past 400 years.

So what was the point of casting a black Iago? If anything it serves to bond together the two characters who in their own way are both outsiders from very different perspectives.

Msamati is a genius at portraying Iago in all his manipulative glory – and he even manages to manipulate the audience to laugh along with him.

The modern-day production uses water superbly on stage for many uses – from the first serene dappled-lit canal scenes in Venice to a disturbing water torture episode, to Desdemona’s final haunting bathing scene hours before she is strangled by her demented husband.

Hugh Quarshie with Joanna Vanderham as Desdemona

Othello’s descent from calm, respected, loving nobleman to violent, jealous beast has everyone spellbound, drawing shocked gasps when he viciously slaps his beautiful wife across the face.

Shakespeare may have written the play in 1604, but Othello’s scenes of domestic violence still resonate today.

The latter half of the play has you in its grip as the audience is carried along on a gathering momentum of self-destruction with evil looming supreme.

Holby City maybe missing Ric Griffin, but the good doctor sure is setting the stage alight in Stratford.

Othello runs until August 28

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