Friday, 27 September 2013

Othello at the National Theatre


Just a quick update for my readers. On Thursday I went to see the live broadcast of Othello at the National Theatre. I can only say it was a stunning performance. I was asked to write a review of it at college, and I thought it would be a good idea to post it on here.

Also, in regards to books, I'm currently reading the first two books in Jackson Pierce's Fairytale Retellings series. I'll be reading Rebecca after I've finished it, and I've also got my hands on Doctor Sleep which I'll be tearing through afterwards! Anyway, here's my Othello review, hope you enjoy it.


Othello at the National Theatre
There is a reason that Othello at the National Theatre has been sold out right up until the closing night on the 5th October. Maybe it’s the strict dedication each actor had to their role, or maybe it’s the clever way the set fit together like pieces in a puzzle. But there is no excuse for not seeing this production. Nicholas Hytner’s contemporary yet imaginative take on Shakespeare’s Othello was only a work of masterpiece.
Since reading Othello when I was but thirteen, it has been the one Shakespeare play which has always stuck in my mind. The themes of jealousy and manipulation are carefully woven together. Then there’s the famous phrase which will always been one of my favourite Shakespeare quotations: “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green eyed monster, which doth mock the meet it feeds on.” My expectations were therefore somewhat biased. I knew the story, I knew the characters, and I knew that the play was essentially a work of art. However, had you been completely new to the story, or even completely new to Shakespeare, I believe your review of the performance would have had little diversity.
Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester were cast in the leading roles as Iago and Othello. Kinnear is known for his work in Hamlet and Burnt by the Sun, so it seemed that the character of Iago was in safe hands. Similarly, Lester has occasionally been seen on my television in shows like Hustle. But were they cut out for such roles? Iago is manipulative, he’s passionate about what he wants, he’s deeply angry. Could Kinnear pull off such a role? Could Lester become the wounded soul in which Othello finally becomes? There is a simple answer; of course.

Kinnear played Iago with certainty. He’d thought about this character to the point where he’d adjusted his costume in order to look ‘sloppier’ than the other soldiers, and given him a hint of a Northern accent. His asides were passionate and his eyes piercing. Iago’s plan formulated before our eyes and Kinnear was the translator of this. Adrian Lester matched Kinnear’s take on Iago by showing us the slow build up of tension from start to finish, digging his hooks into us to the point where the audience were on the edge of their seat. More importantly, you could tell that they’d both thought about their characters, and not only that, but their relationship. Being close off-screen, they’d have a good opportunity to do this, and it worked brilliantly.
The supporting characters were like the foundations for Kinnear and Lester’s grand masterpiece. Lyndsey Marshal, who played Emilia, gave us a new take on the character. Emilia was braver and more impulsive that we’ve seen her before. But set against the Othello and Iago in the foreground, it worked perfectly. Jonathan Bailey as Cassio managed to draw sympathy from the audience, and Olivia Vinall’s Desdemona was feisty, yet still carried the innocence which Shakespeare had intended.

The actors used the stage like it was a giant moving fortress. It reminded me of the moving staircases from Harry Potter, everyone knew where they were supposed to be, and the set slipped together with perfect fluency. Set out in blocks, each block would slide forwards or backwards with a different setting inside. Though not focusing on the city of Venice specifically, it was as believable as an army base can look. Muted greens reflected the characters feelings of jealously, and Desdemona’s white handkerchief contrasted well against the shadowing background as symbolism.
Hytner chose to use a modern setting to his advantage, and the piece opened with Iago and Roderigo standing with pints and cigarettes in their hands. The uniforms were contemporary, but still portrayed the characters well, such as Othello’s bright white shirt at the opening of the play. The constant drinking from beer cans and the uses of technology during the play represented how trapped the characters were inside Iago’s web. It only made the story more believable, more compelling, as a modern audience was able to relate it back to what is happening in society now. It almost seemed like it could’ve been a work of non-fiction, but it was so gripping, so well acted to rouse excitement, it lost none of the elements of something not unlike a best-selling page-turner of a novel.
So, when the play is brilliantly acted, wonderfully directed, and put into a setting which not only fascinates but brings wonders to the story, how can it not be a phenomenon to watch? I only hope that Kinnear and Lester continue put as much thought into their future characters as they did this night, and I’m certain wherever it was watched, it will be a show that none of the audience will forget.

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