Othello***** (National Theatre Olivier, 1 May 2013)

Posted: May 1, 2013 in Theatre

photo-113In Nicholas Hytner’s production, Cyprus becomes a modern day war zone looking something like Afghanistan and the chief protagonists are clearly defined by their class, Othello appearing as if a Sandhurst-trained officer, Iago a soldier from the ranks.  Confined to an army base, the characters have little to do but idle time by gossiping, kicking around footballs by day and swilling beer by night; it is an environment in which it seems inevitable that petty resentments will fester and personal jealousies will be nurtured. Setting the play in this context proves to be a masterstroke as it gives greater clarity to all the plot developments and helps to throw light on the two great enigmas – Iago’s motivation and Othello’s gullibility. Preconceptions that Adrian Lester could be too lightweight for the title role are confounded as emphatically as suspicions that Rory Kinnear is turning into the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation are confirmed. As Iago, Kinnear gives a towering performance, smirking at his own duplicity, often standing front of stage plotting and scheming in collusion with the audience and lacing his words with sardonic humour; his delivery is so modern and true to character that it is often easy to forget that he is speaking the language of Tudor England. Relative newcomer Olivia Vinall is an endearing Desdemona, slightly built, tomboyish and vulnerable and the rest of the company is solid. There was a hitch with scenery at this performance which caused a five minute interruption near the beginning but, otherwise, the sets change smoothly from open exteriors to small claustrophobic rooms with fluorescent lighting. This is a production which exemplifies the National Theatre at the peak of its form.

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