A few weeks ago,after my school had snatched up some fast fleeing tickets like an eagle does its prey, I was lucky enough to attend the National Theatre’s greatly anticipated production of Othello. Unexpectedly, the next day we were asked to don our critical thinking hats by, as it’s hard to guess from the title,writing a review. Being the unashamed English geek that I am I decided to share it with y’all (said in James Franco’s gangsta slur in Spring Breakers). Although Fashinate is primarily a fashion blog we also post anything that we enjoy as much as Justin Bieber does ‘smizing’, resulting in him looking like a squinting bafoon who definitely needs to go to Specsavers. However if theatre reviews repel you like an obnoxiously musky cologne and it’s fashion you seek, I have styled an outfit based around the colour associated with of the theme’s of the play, jealousy.
It’s not surprising that Nicholas Hynter’s production of ‘Othello’ drew such an excited buzz after his modern-day Henry V, complete with references to Iraq, had critics frothing at their mouths with praise. Adrian Lester was his king, and now the pair have joined forces again, creating a compelling, military focused production, also set in modern day dress. Although it wasn’t just the clothes and set that has been modernised, but the audience too as when glancing over the tops of heads, the scene didn’t resemble the contents of an egg box. This was already a point in Hynter’s favour, and the play hadn’t even begun yet.
Despite its length, over three hours, the production was fast paced throughout and never loosened its dramatic grip. The audience were quite literally on the edge of their seats and, therefore it wasn’t surprising that many abandoned them altogether after the chillingly brilliant ending where Iago lingers psychotically savouring view of the three dead bodies strewn across the bed. As scene after scene unravelled, it all seemed grippingly real. This realism was captured by the crisply coherent manner in which the actors spoke Shakespeare’s often florid verse. Their recitation of complicated similes that students frantically try to decipher in classrooms across the country all became as easily comprehensible as modern day regular speech or text talk, emphasising the eternality of Shakepeare’s work. #Iwillwearmyheartuponmysleeve, anyone?
The clear utterance of the words added a dash of humour, Hynter’s genius secret ingredient. Such a light hearted emotion would not usually be associated with a play as dark as Othello, yet it was carefully wielded and it become a very powerful weapon for the arch villain Iago (Rory Kinnear) as his most disturbing quality was his charm. Not only did this make it plausible as to how Othello, along with entirety of the rest of the characters, trusted him, but also creepily toyed with the audiences’ sense of morality. The opening scene, set outside a City-looking pub, presents Kinnear’s Iago with his Thames Estuary accent, pint and ciggie as your average, football-watching bloke. However, when he subtlety begins to weave his web of malevolence, it’s clear he will always be the mate whose pub banter has a whiff of misogyny to it and who is likely to revel in your drunken humiliation. One of my favourite examples of Kinnear’s Iago as both a blunt, plain-spoken man and eerie comedy genius was when he scoffed, with the ridicule and dismissal of a teenager, ‘Err..why?’ after Tom Robertson’s foppishly hilarious Made in Chelsea-esque Roderigo proclaims he will drown himself. This chilling portrayal of Iago as the ‘bloke next door’ and not an overly dramatic pantomime villain fitted perfectly with the naturalistic, paired down tone of the performance. It was as if this Iago could be lurking in any crowd of blokes huddling around ‘Match of the Day’ at the local pub. Kinnear’s Iago was not a cackling evil genius but simply an amoral man who understands how to exploit the flaws of others and does so for sport to escape from the boredom that military life brings. He was callous and gave the appearance of scattering his poisoned seeds as he went along. He was casual and indifferent, sipping water over the writhing body of Othello and earlier subtlety winds Othello into a rage with quiet yet negative-sounding comments and questions filled with childlike innocence that convince Othello, that he’s ‘honest’.
While Kinnear captured the subtle menace of Iago and excels in his scenes with others, his soliloquies’ such as that including the line ‘I hate the Moor’ were a disappointment. I felt it lacked the visceral loathing and ‘motiveless malignity’ which is so vital.
Kinnear’s other weakness was the lack of obvious enjoyment in his Iago’s scheming. After the neglected, attention-hungry Emilia has given him Desdemona’s handkerchief, we see Kinnear’s Iago thuggishly exult by jumping and punching the air with the glee of a child. However only in this scene did I feel Kinnear effectively portrayed Iago’s sheer enjoyment of the destruction he’s causing. Afterwards he reverts to his previous cool and measured state, emphasising he’s a subtle villain, yet I felt sometimes this subtly became overused and overemphasised. Overall I found the direction of Iago superb yet Kinnear’s delivery not harrowingly frightening enough. However ‘I am nothing, if not critical’.
Adrian Lester gave a flawless performance of a tragically flawed character. His Othello first appears as a charismatic, although not over elaborate, dignified and confident Obama-like-figure. And his rich, silky and dulcet tones were the antithesis to Kinnear’s Iago’s gruff grunts. He doesn’t rise to Brabantio’s jabbing racist comments but replies with humour and grace. These seemed old fashioned in the up-to-date corporate board room and therefore increasing the shock factor for the audience. This is telling as the play is not wholly about race, allowing more intricate themes to be unpicked and explored. When they arrive at the Afganistan-esque orange sodium-lit barracks in Cyrpus complete with a bikini- calendar-girl-decorated soldiers’ mess, which plays host to a perfectly choreographed Inbetweeners-esque drinking scene, Othello still seems very steady. This production has heavily emphasised the military aspect, explaining why everything is so controlled, and Lester’s Othello seems most comfortable skilfully commanding his soldiers. This is balanced by his naivety. The scene when he arrives at Cyprus to a waiting Desdemona, who flits to him clad in Topshop SS13 like a delicate butterfly, showed this well. The pair become so ‘lovey-dovey’ they’re met by stares of ‘get a room’. This represents how the besotted Othello, played to perfection by Lester, forgets his duties and with it his commanding authority and rational judgement, the flaw that is eventually the key to his demise.
As ‘the green-eyed monster [begins to] mock the meat it feeds on’, Lester excellently portrays Othello’s descent into madness which poisons him both mentally and physically as he retches violently into the toilet. Setting this scene in a toilet is a fitting location for the villain as he seems most at home here showing how his morality dwells in a sewer. Lester is also crammed into a toilet cubicle, showing how he is now confined by paranoia and how far he has fallen. However Lester’s ‘light’ shines most brightly when he puts out that of Desdemona. His speech ‘it is the cause’ was painfully tragic and the scene when Othello is lying by the dead Desdemona weeping and howling with such raw and vulnerable emotion left even the most dry of eyes welling up. Some dispute whether or not Othello is a true tragic figure or not but in this production Lester’s Othello was so moving that one could not fathom an argument against him.
By the nature of the text, Desdemona is cast slightly more to the shadows. Played by Olivia Vinall she is a distracting delicate flicker of happiness and idealism in a world dominated by tough, burly men, where innocence has no place. Frolicking through the army camp as if it was a prairie, in this production it’s Desdemona who seems foreign, not her husband, making it seem slightly more believable that he’s so quick to accuse her.
In contrast Emilia is ‘one of the lads’ as she marches around, in army uniform, as tough as nails indicating her hidden feistiness that is displayed in the final scene. Unfortunately she’s very much pushed to the side in this production although when she does have a decent scene; Lyndsey Marshall rises to the job splendidly. ‘The Willow Scene’ was done disappointingly by Vinall as Desdemona needed a far more strong sense of fear and foreboding. However this allowed Marshall to shine even brighter. Her bitter words reflect a feminist reaction to male assumptions. Her anger suggests a possibility of Emilia being abused by her husband. However in this scene Marshall’s Emilia focuses more on brainstorming for a 17th century ‘Female Eunuch’ than the comforting of an anxious Desdemona. In the final scene, Marshall is convincing as an angry and passionate Emilia, the voice of truth and reason in the play. This is ironic as she is married to the arch villain himself and even accidently aided him in his evil. Jonathan Bailey as Cassio was especially impressive in his speech about reputation and made know-it-all- teachers –pet Cassio seem like a genuinely good chap.
Vicky Mortimer’s set was a work of art as the concrete boxes seamlessly slid in and out of each other, portraying the omnipresent sense of claustrophobia and paranoia. Traditional richness of the set is replaced by neon-lighting and muted tones and the bare walled, Ikea-assemble-it-yourself-furnished rooms made it all the more eerie as if this tragedy could happen in the most humble of places. The set highlights that ‘Othello’ despite the grandeur of the setting in the text is simply a domestic tragedy that highlights how our emotions ‘make [us] or foredoes [us] quite’
Overall the production was stellar throughout and ‘strange…. wondrous strange’.
”Beware my lord of jealousy, it is the green-ey’d monster that dock mock the meat it feeds on”- Shakespeare
Top – Borrowed from the aunt. Due to my lack of green clothes I was close to resorting to crafting something from the garden which would have had me in an outfit looking like the lovechild of Eve’s most famous piece from her Creation 1BC collection and a hulla skirt. So thank my aunt for saving your retinas.
Headband- Necklace tied round head. Try it people, t’ll save you money and the addition of a pendant makes it a little less yr 7, tie-a-ribbon-round-your-head hippy.
Necklace- Gifted by a lovely gal from the Rookie meetup. THANK YOU if you’re reading this, it’s been glued to me neck since.
I hope you’ve all enjoyed your bank holidays!