Othello at the National Theatre
Adrian Lester, Rory Kinnear and Nicholas Hytner form a kind of holy trinity in Othello, delivering a stunning performance of Shakespeare’s tale of deceit. The National’s new production is typical Hytner: Shakespeare updated to a polished and perfected modernism, a superb cast and subtle re-readings of tired lines.
The play begins as Iago and Roderigo spill drunkenly out of a pub, pints and fags in hand – and instantly Kinnear’s Iago is a quick-witted, silver-tongued little bully, taking advantage of the adorably foppish Roderigo played by Tom Robertson. Watching a Hytner-directed Shakespeare is as comfortable as watching the telly: suddenly even the most opaque of Shakespearean metaphors is illuminated and understandable. The updated setting gives the play an immediacy and familiarity, stripping the text of any pageantry and heavy-handed oratory.
Lester enthrals in the title role, ably negotiating the wild peaks and troughs of his character’s emotions. Othello is formal and polite in state conference rooms, but is a soldier at heart, coming into his own when he is on the ground in the army barracks, and relishing the macho camaraderie of the soldier’s mess and the discipline of his troops. He and Desdemona cling on to each other with the innocent joy of newlyweds, Othello displaying bursts of affection that contrast with the stern command he has over his men. Desdemona’s presence in the army barracks is a jolt – her pastel-coloured civvies, coiffured blonde hair and sandals tensely out of place in a world of breezeblocks and camouflage. Her female ally is Emilia, played feistily by Lyndsey Marshal. Emilia is often in danger of being overlooked as the “nurse” character; not so with Marshal’s portrayal, who shows her in turn as girly confidante, defiant wife and, finally, a martyr for the truth.
The word “honest” reverberates around the text ominously. Othello says of Iago early on: “A man he is of honesty and truth.” Kinnear’s Iago is horrifyingly likeable: his wisecracking amongst the lads and a scene of childish jubilation make him human and fallible, certainly not a villain. This is an Iago who determinedly sets towards his goal, but sees no harm in playfully enjoying the process. Hytner has teamed two of today’s most talented Shakespearean actors to play one of literature’s most famous pairings. No wonder it is a triumph.
Othello is at the National Theatre until 18th August 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
The production will also be broadcast live to 250 UK cinemas on 26th September 2013.