Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Pros: One of the clearest productions of Othello I have seen. Had the whole audience on the edge of their seat for the whole 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Cons: Rory Kinnear plays Iago with an accent that doesn’t sit well for some reason.
Our Verdict: Shakespeare’s finest characters played by Britain’s finest actors and helmed by one of theatre’s finest directors.
We at Everything Theatre have seen quite a few productions of Othello in our time. From Hip-Hop remixes to period dramas, it is amazing how one story can be retold in so many different ways. I think it is safe to say that this National Theatre production was one of the most highly anticipated in recent years: with Adrian Lester as the eponymous Maur and Rory Kinear as the slimy Iago – not to mention Sir Nicholas Hytner at the helm – this production was always going to be excellent. And excellent it was, but could it surpass the hype?
I’m sure I don’t need to summarise the plot of Othello. Suffice it to say that this script is home to some of Shakespeare’s most interesting parts. Iago, of course, is potentially one of the most evil characters in Shakespeare’s arsenal. Rory Kinnear is hugely talented actor, and takes on the challenge of playing this Elizabethan version of Batman’s Joker with gusto. Of all the Iagos I have seen, Kinnear’s is probably the most callous (the scene where Roderigo is ‘disposed of’ springs to mind; particularly brutal when a gun is used rather than a rapier). As for Othello himself, Adrian Lester fills the role with ease. The transition from loving husband to jealous wreck is outstanding: his behaviour around Desdemona starts off as almost nauseating, and this makes his descent into jealousy and doubt even more heart-wrenching. Desdemona is played by Olivia Vinall: the young bride is obviously love-sick, and it is physically painful at times to see her confusion at the hands of Othello’s increasingly heated accusations. The rest of the supporting cast cannot be faulted – particular mentions to Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia, Jonathan Baily as Cassio and Tom Robertson as the hapless Roderigo.
The only downside to note in the acting is the working class accent which Rory Kinnear takes on for his Iago. Although there are numerous directorial reasons for him to speak like this, there is something about it which doesn’t quite sit right in Kinnear’s performance. Perhaps this was because at times it made it difficult for him to clearly enunciate the Shakesperian language, or maybe because none of the other squaddies seemed to speak his lingo. In any case I overheard several people during the interval expressing a similar sentiment. Aside from this minor gripe, I must say that this production of Othello was one of the clearest that I have had the pleasure to watch.
As is always the case with an excellently directed Shakespeare, I found myself catching subtleties of the plot which had previously escaped me. One example was the scene where Desdemona admits to her father, Brabantio, that she has married Othello. Brabantio’s final advice to Othello is that since Desdemona has deceived her father, she could well deceive her new husband. Iago stands in the corner, silently contemplating this quip, with a wry smile on his lips as an idea is born. Hytner is of course a celebrated director, but subtle touches like these are the proof of his talent.
This production of Othello is set in the modern day. Cyprus is portrayed much like I would imagine a British base in Afghanistan would be. Some people have a problem with staging Shakespeare outside of its time-period, but I must admit I find it more interesting, and certainly in this case the time frame could not have been better suited. The set, designed by Vicki Mortimer, was as excellent as you’d expect from the National – a set of military containers and hangars which would slide out to reveal rooms, offices and toilet cubicles. Full of surprises, the set, along with the sound and lighting, were yet more assets to this slick production.
To sum up, this was pretty much all you could possibly want from a play: two celebrated British actors playing some of the English language’s finest roles, directed by one of theatre’s most influential figures. The resulting production, unsurprisingly, is truly excellent. It did not exceed those expectations, however, so I couldn’t give away that elusive fifth star… But put it this way: if Everything Theatre did fractional stars, this would be a 4.9.
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Othello runs at the National Theatre until 5th October.