A Kingstonian actor is playing a brand new role in the Union Theatre's retelling of Shakespeare's Othello.

Othello is running at Southwark's Union Theatre until April 6, with the official opening night this Wednesday (March 20).

It stars Jeremy Todd from Kingston in a new role which merges to key characters in the play, namely the Duke and female lead Desdemona's father, and works them into a new setting for the play: British colonial India.

Speaking to the Comet Monday (March 18), Mr Todd said that now was a great time to be working on Othello considering how relevant some of the seventeenth-century play's social and cultural commentary remains for contemporary audiences today.

Mr Todd said: "The role I'm playing, the father is very unhappy that his daughter is running off with a person of colour.

"My new role combines the authority and commercial elements of the Duke with these racist views held by the father in the Viceroy of India character, and he has deep-seated racist attitudes towards high-ranking officers in his army.

"That says a great deal about the institutional racism that certainly did exist in the British army at that time just after the First World War...When the person at the top of the organization is like this, it suggests that the whole institution is racist as opposed to just one random individual."

With the recent spate of far-right strong men becoming heads of state, from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Donald Trump in the United States, it is a theme that couldn't be more relevant to present-day audiences — something the Kingstonian actor was keen to highlight.

Mr Todd said: "There are some people out there who are leading their countries who are themselves hold slightly jaundiced or prejudiced attitudes and I think there is a great deal of Islamophobia around, held not just by random individuals but also some very senior people holding very important positions."

"It's shocking to think that someone like Trump got there because he was helped to get elected by people who know his views and want to encourage him to hold those views. The play is fantastically relevant to all this."

Mr Todd says he was drawn to acting after realising that a more typical office-based job was not his cup of tea, and studied at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) from 1987 on.

"I was looking for something that would make my life a bit more exciting and doing something that had a bit of an edge to it. I found that in theatre."

He has since acted in a number of previous Shakespeare productions including Twelfth Night and The Tempest. But Othello, he says, is extra special.

"It's one of his very best. The clarity of the narrative and the plot, it's such a good story."

The team behind this new retelling are hopeful that several of the key themes central to Othello, such as the xenophobia of many of the protagonist's close confidants, will translate well into into the British colonial setting.

Specifically, the play focuses on the time period around the notorious Jallianwala Bagh or Amritsar massacre (1919), when British and Indian soldiers murdered hundreds of unarmed Punjabi protestors.

Mr Todd said: "The British were brutal...India was a suppressed nation under British rule and there's a great deal of that in the play, we see how the Indian people are treated as second-class citizens throughout."

"It was a country riven with poverty and rather than helping them out of that situation the British acted brutally, pulling out guns and shooting people by the hundreds...It was an extraordinarily difficult time and Britain's role was abusive."

Othello is running until April 6 at the Union Theatre in Southwark.

More info, times and tickets can be found at: www.uniontheatre.biz/othello.html