Before the play proper, a janitor cleans up a large puddle of blood with a mop, and dries up the remaining drops with towel in hand. This occurs while a projection of hundreds of Othello production posters flickers on the huge Lyttleton backdrop, with the ticking years of the 1600s to the 2020s flashing across the screen. We see countless white actors blacking up as Othello, to the more racially diverse casts of recent years.
Peter Eastland (Ensemble) in Othello at the National Theatre. Image: Myah Jeffers
Most famous for his portrayal of Aaron Burr in the original London production of Hamilton, the Olivier award-winning Giles Terera plays Othello with agility and dynamism. He spins about the stage in love, burns with jealousy, and shocks himself with his own murderous actions. He is charismatic, but an emotional depth is missing. As an audience, we watch his actions but he never gains our confidence.
Paul Hinton plays Iago as a cartoon villain. His portrayal is the hammiest of the whole ensemble, to the point where he is practically in a pantomime. His tiny black moustache and slicked-back greasy hair tells you all you need to know. That the characters think he is trustworthy seems utterly at odds with Hinton’s overt sniggering and scheming. Again, there is a lack of contrast which makes the production feel one note instead of kaleidoscopic.
The most exciting moments are when Terera shows off his impressive fighting skills, once at the start when he practises martial arts with a long stick to illustrate his martial dexterity as a warrior general, another moment (the pivotal midpoint) when he practises boxing as Iago drips poison in Othello’s ear about Desdemona’s infidelity.
Paul Hilton (Iago) and the cast of Othello at the National Theatre. Image: Myah Jeffers
A Royal Court favourite, Chloe Lamford has designed the set with a giant pyramid-like staircase on three sides, hinting at how far you can climb and how far you can fall when it comes to gaining and sustaining power. Inventive lighting design by Jai Morjaria complements Lamford’s efforts to add depth to the melancholy atmosphere.
In the final thirty minutes, Tanya Franks as Emilia (wife of Iago) steals the show. As servant to Desdemona, her monologue on equality for women shines a burning light in the darkness. For all the misogynistic rhetoric and hateful actions towards women in the play, we see how Shakespeare can deeply empathise with the plight of women. As director, Dyer has lifted this moment out of the play and offers it to us like a jewel, glinting away in the gloom of this inevitable tragedy.
|What||Othello, National Theatre review|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
23 Nov 22 – 21 Jan 23, 7:30 PM – 10:30 PM
|Price||£20 - £89|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|