REVIEW: OTHELLO at the National Theatre

Shakespeare’s classic Othello has seen many forms, adaptations and productions over the years. Othello’s story of jealousy, deception, military heroism and love has had audiences raptured since the play debuted way back in the 1600s. A new production at the National Theatre has been mounted and directed by Clint Dyer which promises an extraordinary new vision of the classic tragedy for today’s audiences.

This enduring tragedy concerns Othello, a refugee of slavery; having risen to the top of a white world. He discovers love across racial lines in the form of Desdemona a bright, headstrong daughter of a senator; elevated by her status but stifled by its expectations. Wed in secret, Desdemona and Othello crave a new life together. But as unseen forces conspire against them, they find their future is not theirs to decide.

Giles Terera (Death of England: Face to Face) plays Othello, Rosy McEwen (The Alienist) plays Desdemona and Paul Hilton (The Inheritance) as Iago. They’re joined by an enthusiastic cast of Jack Bardoe (Translations, SCREW) as Roderigo/System, Rory Fleck Byrne (The Lion in Winter, King Charles III) as Cassio/System, Kirsty J Curtis (Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads, Sneakerhead) as Bianca/System, Joe Bolland (Our Generation, Sherwood) as Gentleman, Peter Eastland (All of Us, Mourning Becomes Electra, Three Sisters) as System, Tanya Franks (Really Old Like 45, The Black Album, Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads) as Emilia/System, Colm Gormley (Othello, War Horse) as Gentlemen/Officer/System, Gareth Kennerley (War Horse, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Fiddler On The Roof) as Montano/System, Joshua Lacey (The Visit, Macbeth, wonder.land, One Man, Two Guvnors) as Lodovico/System, Martin Marquez (Husbands and Sons, Mother Courage and her Children, Anything Goes) as Duke of Venice, Katie Matsell (Museum of Austerity, Clybourne Park) as System, Amy Newton (Flycatcher, The Revolutionists) as System, Sabi Perez (Dangerous Corner, The Tempest) as System, Steffan Rizzi (The Corn is Green, The Citizens’ Richard III, Unfortunate: the Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch) as Gentleman/Senator/System, Jay Simpson (Scenes from an Execution, Mother Clap’s Molly House, Battle Royal) as Brabantio/Gratiano/System and Ryan Whittle (Not Quite Jerusalem, Letters to Morrissey, King Charles III) as Voice/System.

Clint Dyer’s inspired direction sees the majority of the cast stepping in and out of character and joining the aptly named System. They lurk about the set, animalistically in dim light as they represent the character’s inner most thoughts, feelings and eventually descent into madness. Rory Fleck Byrne gives an excellent performance as Cassio, bringing a humanisation to the character that’s played out through his loyalty to his position and love for Kirsty J Curtis’ Bianca. Jack Bardoe gives a well-rounded performance of naive Roderigo, handling the characters story arch with aplomb.

Giles Terera’s Othello is a magnetic force you can’t take your eyes off and his descent into madness is played with such nuance and finesse that the audience automatically identifies with his plight. Paul Hilton as Iago delivers an excellent performance and his portrayal of the villainous character is an inspired masterclass in modern Shakespearean acting. Rosy McEwen delivers an outstanding performance as the ill-fated Desdemona. Gone is the scared and naive Desdemona of productions past and instead, McEwen’s portrayal is of a fiercely strong, independent Desdemona who is still as loving and loyal towards Othello as ever. Her delivery of lines, characterization and emotional arch is so affecting, it’s easy to forget the piece was written in the 1600s as it seems as if it was written yesterday. Brava!

Chloe Lamford’s set design for this Othello is a character in itself. As you enter the theatre, posters and dates of past productions of Othello are projected onto the set and back wall. Staged in the proscenium, Lamford’s design is a tower of stairs spreading the full width of the stage on three sides leading to a central playing area. Forever changing and moving to depict different locations throughout the play, Lamford’s design is such that the audience immediately understands where each scene is taking place. Combined with Jai Morjaria’s lighting design and Benjamin Grant’s sound and composition and the result is slick and highly effective modern production.

Clint Dyer’s National Theatre production of Othello is modern, emotive, and very powerful while still being rooted in the original text. Receiving a very well-deserved standing ovation on press night, this riveting production focusing on human emotion is not to be missed.

★★★★★

Reviewed by Stuart James

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