National Theatre, Lyttelton – until 21 January 2022
The National Theatre’s Lyttelton stage has been transformed with steps and terraces around the performance space, creating a look that is a cross between an ancient greek theatre and a fighting pit.
Before the play starts, images of past productions of Othello and the year they were performed are projected onto the steps and back wall as a reminder of the story’s timelessness.
When the play begins an angry mob confronts Othello (Giles Terera) about his marriage to Desdemona (Rosy McEwan), and one of them holds a rope tied into a noose. It’s a startling reminder of the lynch mobs of the not-too-distant past. The production is consciously white, with Terera the only person of colour in the cast. It serves to emphasise the racism and jealousy that fuels the tragedy and Othello’s isolation.
A sort of chorus – called ‘system’ on the cast list – is almost permanently present on stage, either seated or standing on the steps. They are like the personification of an infection, the sickness of emotions that grows in Othello’s mind synchronising their jagged and exaggerated movements. And there is something that is part creepy, part peaceful in how they gather and sit with Othello as he dies.
Paul Hilton’s Iago is played with the chill and wit of a good comic book villain. The system moves and are animated by what he says and does; sometimes, there is something grotesquely comic in how they respond. Desdemona, like Ophelia, is a complex character to pull off, but McEwan portrays her with some bite and anger, which makes for a refreshing change.
Terera’s Othello is on a fast track to mental instability and anguish. It doesn’t take many suggestions from Iago to get him to doubt Desdemona and for his behaviour to become increasingly erratic. It exposes an underlying sensitivity and perhaps self-doubt. Given the racism and the reaction of the mob at the start, coupled with the warning from Desdemona’s father that she has already betrayed him once, is he subconsciously looking for something not to be right?
At times he raves and is borderline crazy, a contrast that sometimes felt too stark next to the cool, assured military leader he is at the start.
But overall, it is a vividly atmospheric and kinetic production.
I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Othello, National Theatre
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Clint Dyer
Running time: 3 hours, including an interval.
Booking until 21 January 2023; for more details and to buy tickets, visit the National Theatre website.
Good, Harold Pinter Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ recently extended and now booking until 7 January 2023.
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