Star Trek skipper to play white Othello

Patrick Stewart, best known for his screen role as Captain Jean- Luc Picard in Star Trek, is to star in a radical interpretation of Shakespeare's Othello which opens on Monday night on New York.

The white actor will play the title role surrounded by an all-black cast in a dramatic reversal of the playwright's original scenario.

Stewart, who originated the concept for the production, said: "I've been imagining myself playing Othello, and in a sense preparing for it, since I was about 14. When the time came that I was old enough and experienced enough to do it, it was the same time that it no longer became acceptable for a white actor to put on a black face and pretend to be African.

"One of my hopes for this production is that it will continue to say what a conventional production of Othello would say about racism and prejudice. It might even say it in a more intense and possibly provocative way by reversing the usual racial characteristics. To replace the black outsider with a white man in a black society will, I hope, encourage a much broader view of the fundamentals of racism, and perhaps even question those triggers - colour of skin, physiognomy, language, culture - that can produce instant feelings of fear, suspicion and so forth."

The actor is also starring in the current Hollywood blockbusters Conspiracy Theory and Masterminds. But Stewart's return to the stage will be welcome news particularly for his pre-Star Trek fans. Before his Hollywood stardom he was a leading actor with the Royal Shakespeare Company and in the Seventies also had one of the central roles in the BBC TV adaptation of I Claudius.

Othello, which will run until 4 January at the Shakespeare Theatre in New York, is directed by Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.