patrice-naiambana-othello-and-natalia-tena-desdemona-in-rehearsal-for-othelloEvery artist needs to meet Patrice Naiambana. His inspiring views on an artist’s responsibility to help society are seriously enlightening and he could talk about the African Diaspora until the cows come home. His passionate personality commands your attention and his knowledge and intellect makes you sit up and listen. The actor (or African performing artist as he likes to be known!) is currently in rehearsals for Othello which is being produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company; one of the most famous Theatre companies’ in the world.

How did you get into acting?
First of all, I am an African performing artist living in Birmingham! (Smiles) I started in Sierra Leone, West Africa and I got into performance because I felt stories were a good way, a vital way, of dealing with dialogue and social transformation and all those noble idealist things….I was also fascinated by history, how Africa and the Diaspora got to be where it was and the relationship between that and the west…and being somebody who has grown up here [England] and being very familiar with African and even the Caribbean, as I’ve spent some time there as well, I was interested in what kind of bridges could be made between all these different kind of experiences and cultural universes.

Would you consider yourself a deep thinker?
(Long Silence) Why do you ask that?

Because normally when you ask that question actors talk about ‘I had a talent for it’ or ‘I liked being on the stage’. You don’t generally get the noble answer you just gave.
It probably is a bit…maybe it sounds pretentious or self righteous or overly idealistic I can understand that, it’s just that I was born in Africa – we had challenges man! And I lived in England and there was a lot of ignorance about Africa, Africans, African Diaspora, our relationship, our historical relationship and it was just, ‘this is outrageous!’…Those kind of important issues to do with dialogue and understanding, I don’t see as noble, we need to be more effective in ways of understanding each other….I realise what I started out with all those years ago is still as pertinent and relevant and resonant now…Most artistic people, certainly in Africa, are concerned about social issues…when they write songs it’s about society, about social issues and how can we move forward.

patrice-naiambana-othello-in-othelloSo, how did you come to be involved with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) production of Othello?
As an artist I have worked with Kathryn Hunter [the director] for a number of years and I have see her work…so it has been a journey of performers, experience and collaboration over a number of years which has culminated with the support of the RSC in this particular play.

What was it about Othello that you loved?
It’s more to do with dialogue, intercultural dialogue and learning, that’s how it started….I’m very interested in how we get to know each other better basically, and how we can improve or learn to listen in different ways and Shakespeare seems to be a constant….The thing about Othello was I’d been listening to many talk about Othello; Samuel L Jackson, Hugh Quashie, James Earl Jones and…Othello just seemed to contain lots of blocks of issues that seemed particularly resonant now in terms of things that I’d been looking at and this thing of how can we understand each other, how do we love each other and what stops us from loving each other…I wanted to use a play that could make very real connections or reveal very real connections about inter-culturality in Britain today.

They have been a number of productions of Othello staged recently, what does the RSC’s version bring to our understanding?
I think one of the things we’ve been talking about is what exactly are the reasons that go into Othello’s downfall and how can we really release them and make them manifest….How much of his downfall is down to him, how much of it is down to his circumstances etc….Also the love, it’s a very deep love. If they were just platonic what would be the big issue, but they are having sex…if they weren’t having sex I really wouldn’t see what the big issue is.

And finally, would you say this is a production for those who just like Shakespeare?
It’s telling a story for anybody who is into stories!

Othello begins its UK tour on the 30th January 2009 and will be playing at the Hackney Empire between the 10th – 14th February 2009. For more information or to book tickets please visit

Words by Karla Williams

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