Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Green-Eyed Monster

I have just completed a 3000 word essay on 'Othello', so I was hoping that the National Theatre's five-star production might lift me up out of the academic quagmire and once more into that higher realm that Shakespeare seems to occupy. They delivered, my friends.
Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear as Othello and Iago are breathtaking. In their scenes together (all too few) the stage is electric; people are on the edge of their seats, holding their breath. Lester captures Othello's mounting confusion - we see the seed of doubt growing in his mind, and his unstable ricocheting from anger to weeping increases the further we speed towards the tragic ending. Othello's apparently nonsensical curses - 'Goats and monkeys!' - have new tones in Lester's mouth. Othello is not mad - he is so, so angry. So confused. There was no second on stage, not even Shakespeare's addition of a melodramatic fainting fit, when you did not believe in every word, every look.
Kinnear turned Iago into a South London gangster type - setting up a nice disparity between the rather 'rah', chino-wearing officer class (see Cassio and, to a lesser extent, Othello) and the squaddies. During the generals' meeting at the very beginning of the play, Iago stands obediently in the corner, silent and still, only really present when called. He was not your typical villain... but then, Iago never is. There is that bizarrely comfortable camaraderie with and confidence in the audience; a relationship which here provoked a knowing laugh every time someone called him 'Honest Iago' or he swore 'as honest as I am'. But there were no looks out to the audience from Kinnear, once he was immersed in the play; this Iago was entirely separate from his monologues, with no hint of his ulterior motive showing, not even for a second. The monologues themselves were, as you might expect, beautifully crafted. Kinnear's Iago gave a little more credibility than normal to Iago's assertion that he believes his wife to have cheated on him with Othello. Kinnear showed Iago's deep insecurity there, which highlighted (helped by the mainly-male, male-oriented army base setting) his malicious and hateful attitude towards women; Emilia, Bianca, Desdemona... they are all reviled by him, and he wreaks havoc for them all.

Property of the National Theatre
The women in the play shine brightly - they have to, there are only three - and all of them, I have to say, were TINY! Not that this made any difference at all to pretty strong performances; Olivia Vinall as the unlucky Desdemona has been hailed as a star... I wasn't entirely convinced, but then I have real problems with Desdemona... I just want her to get angry. Just one line. Just shout! But, alas, that's not the stuff she's made of; she's in awe of Othello, and is beyond confused and unhappy when things start to go wrong, and with this Vinall was very good. Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia was splendid up until the end when things got a bit too shouty; there was a beautiful moment between the two when Emilia joins in with Desdemona's 'Willow' song.
There is a splendid supporting cast to carry them all along, with understudy Sandy Batchelor a pleasingly ebullient Cassio and Tom Robertson a nicely wimpy Roderigo. They are all working within a fantastic set; Vicki Mortimer's design allowed for rooms to come and go, all bare lighting and barrack-style minimalism, Ikea furniture and make-do storage. There was an utterly inspired moment that took place in the splendidly run-down Gents, with Othello overhearing Cassio's apparent boast of Desdemona's infidelity from within a cubicle, with the dodgy lighting flickering and sputtering during Othello's subsequent rage.
This production is filled with brilliant moments, but my favourite was so subtle it could easily be missed. During his initial two monologues, Kinnear's Iago twists and fiddles with his wedding ring, hinting at his insecurity... later, in Othello's own impassioned monologue about Desdemona's disloyalty he does exactly the same, picking at the scab that was so lately a jewel. And so we know -
Iago's work is as good as done.

Tickets are selling fast so if you can't make it, at least give the trailer a look. This is another classic from the National, I walked out exhausted!

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