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This article discusses the cultural work performed by Janet Suzman's 1987 production of Othello at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg: the first production to breach South Africa's colour-bar in casting black South African actor John Kani in the title role. Through an incorporation of reviews, a close reading of the playtexts, performance and reception history, literary criticism, and an awareness of the South African political and cultural context, the study situates Suzman's production in its specific historical moment, as well as considering its broader history in order to determine what it is about the production that merits the labels of 'radical' and 'ground-breaking' affixed to it by critics. In doing so, it shifts the focus from the production's multiracial casting and onto its treatment of women within the context of racial politics, positioning the white Desdemona's desire for the black Othello - arguably also present in Shakespeare's text - as the truly radical aspect of Suzman's production, in which racial difference is presented as the source of sexual power: a concept which finds parallels in the exchanges between Iago and Emilia and Roderigo and Bianca. The discussion of this neglected aspect of Suzman's radical production emphasizes the impact of social change on any production as well as on the reception of a black actor performing Othello: a performance which, in the case of Suzman's production, invites audiences to recognise the patriarchal societal forces which construct racism and oppression.
Janet Suzman,Othello,John Kani,South Africa,Apartheid,Race,Patriarchy,Sexuality,Market Theatre