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DIRECTOR: Nicholas Hytner
CAST: Rory Kinnear, Adrian Lester, Olivia Vinall, Jonathan Bailey, Lyndsey Marshal
RUNNING TIME: 236 minutes
SETTING Othello on a generic army base somewhere in the Middle East, director Nicholas Hytner once again proves the contemporary nature of Shakespeare’s play.
Highlighting the trust necessary for soldiers in arms to function as a unit, Hytner shows us what happens when men trust each other to the exclusion of the women in their lives, about those very relationships they have with the women.
The plot has pretty much crept into everyday parlance – we know what to expect from the set-up because in the back of your mind you have encountered it in some form already. Yet, the presentation in this production is what keeps you watching because it becomes newly identifiable as real to this time.
Sets of concrete and wire fences fly in and out of the huge stage and the camera work is fluid, subtly moving your viewpoint in scenes with long monologues to keep your attention focused.
Newly married to Desdemona (Vinall), Othello (Lester) is despatched to fight the Turkish invaders who don’t come because their ships sink.
Embittered by being passed over yet again for promotion, his friend Iago (Kinnear) conspires to make Othello think his wife is cheating on him with his lieutenant, Cassius (Bailey).
Drawing Othello into a web of lies – which he totally falls for because he trusts Iago implicitly – it all ends in blood and tears, over the protestation of the very young and naive Desdemona (Vinall) and Iago’s more savvy, worldy wife, Emilia (Marshal).
It may be called Othello, but in this particular case, this production is more about Iago.
It is not that Adrian Lester isn’t up to scratch as Shakespeare’s over-jealous Moor – he convincingly goes from confident army general to suspicious lover to deranged, murderous husband – but Kinnear makes of the duplicitous Iago the meatier character.
Othello wears his emotion on his face, openly, as a gullible guy who is much loved by his soldiers, while Iago is all about secrecy, despite presenting a very honest-looking image to the world.
We get to understand Iago’s motivation, but also get little nuances like the fact that he may be old friends with the general, but despite being a career soldier, he still doesn’t fit in. He is passed over for promotion because he isn’t the perfectly turned-out soldier that, say, Cassius is.
Though he is the venal character, the audience develops a certain level of sympathy for Iago, that is, until the gunshots start and people start dropping. At times Kinnear even gets the audience to laugh with him, at jokes you never noticed before in a previous production, yet this is the same dialogue.
Hytner has created a very clear narrative that is not driven by the obvious potential race problems, but by the relationship between Iago and Othello, and Lester and Kinnear are well matched: the trusting general and angry soldier make a whole lot of sense in this contemporary context.
• This production features a 15-minute introduction and a 15-minute interval.
• Othello, at Cinema Nouveau theatres tomorrow and Sunday, October 23 and 24. The Fugard Theatre, Cape Town, will host a screening at 11am on November 10.