by William Shakespeare.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 18 August 2013.
Runs: 3hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 24 April.
Gains and limits in a story well-told.
Back in February, a group of enthusiastic professional actors in south east London, inspired by a Royal Court residency in Peckham, staged Othello in a derelict factory.
Short on finances, they nonetheless produced an urgent, traverse-staged, modern-dress account that for conviction and intelligence could stand comparison with the best.
Nicholas Hytner’s National Theatre staging is, naturally, bigger and by any standards impressive. With Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago, in a setting that plants us firmly, like the Peckham boys, with UK forces in Afghanistan and the Middle East, three hours fairly flash by.
Hytner has always had an ability to tell a good story. His productions are marked by fluency and clear narrative drive as if telling the story to a bunch of teenagers who may have heard of Shakespeare but certainly never heard this story before.
From Hytner’s version, they will take away a very vivid understanding of racism, class hatred, of male sexual jealousy and from Kinnear’s reading, supercilious hypocrisy, how you can smile and smile and still be knifing the other person in the back while appearing to be kind and honest. Perhaps they’ll understand from this Othello that maybe there’s a little bit of Iago in all of us.
All the same, there is something faintly reductive about the production. It charges forth, referencing modern-day equivalents in all directions. Michael Cassio is a pitch-perfect product of Sandhurst; the war-room of the Venetians contemplating the Ottoman attack like some latter-day Cabinet office.
Best of all Lester’s Othello smacks of eloquence bewildered, a fine, utterly reliable officer who, once the suspicion of his wife’s infidelity has been dropped in by Kinnear’s somewhat lightweight Iago, unleashes a hitherto repressed and violent side of his personality.
Beautifully paced, Lester charts every nuance of Othello’s descent. Newcomer Olivia Vinall initially seems too understated in jeans and backpack amongst the senators and fighting forces (all complete with full modern day battle kit and whirring helicopters). But the bed scene, carried out in a bare married quarters barracks room, is horribly convincing.
Roderigo: Tom Robertson.
Iago: Rory Kinnear.
Brabantio: William Chubb.
Othello: Adrian Lester.
Cassio: Jonathan Bailey.
Duke of Venice: Robert Demeger.
Lodovico: Nick Sampson.
Senator: Joseph Wilkins.
Officials: Rebecca Tanwen, David Carr.
Desdemona: Olivia Vinall.
Montano: Chook Sibtain.
Soldiers: Sandy Batchelor, Gabriel Fleary.
Officer: Scott Karim.
Emilia: Lyndsey Marshal.
Bianca: Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi.
Gratiano: Jonathan Dryden Taylor.
Soldiers/Officials: Adam Berry, David Kirkbride, Tom Radford.
Director: Nicholas Hytner.
Designer: Vicki Mortimer.
Lighting: Jon Clark.
Sound: Gareth Fry.
Music: Nick Powell.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Company Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Digital art: Dan Radley-Bennett.
Military adviser: Jonathan Shaw.
This production of Othello opened in the Olivier Theatre, London, on 23 April 2013.