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A CurtainUp London London Review

Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago. — Iago
Rory Kinnear as Iago and Adrian Lester as Othello (Photo: Johan Persson)
It has always baffled me how such a successful man as Othello could have been fooled by Iago's manipulation. In the programme for Nicholas Hytner's production there is an explanation. The theory is based on Othello and Iago being military men and the absolute essential of there being trust between the military. When Iago thinks that Othello has seduced his wife Emilia (Lyndsey Marshall), there is a belief in the betrayal of trust and so the vengeful motive is set up for Iago to deceive his general and, the understanding as to why Iago is more likely to be believed than not. “Till I am evened with him, wife for wife,” says Iago.

This play is also about class with Rory Kinnear using Estuary English for Iago and although Othello is presumed to be a “military orphan”, the accent Adrian Lester adopts is neutral. We are told that Othello is most at home when fighting battles against the enemy and least confident about the skills needed in peace keeping. You could be forgiven at the interval for thinking that this play should be called Iago for such is that character's dominance of the stage and the number of soliloquies he has, but none of Shakespeare's tragedies are named after the villain.

In this modern dress production, the play opens with soldiers in a pub to loud music and later we see the soldiers in Cyprus in a heavy drinking session. Vicki Mortimer's clever filmic set is placed in conveyer type containers, each large enough to be a temporary room in the military outpost that is Cyprus. The smoke and surroundings to the set are taken from photographs of Afghanistan. In Venice, the walls of Brabantio's house lift to reveal the boardroom where Othello receives his orders and Brabantio (William Chubb) makes his case about the loss of his daughter to the Duke (Robert Demeger). While Othello defends himself to the duke, Iago stands in the corner, to attention, motionless but poised ready to pounce.

I didn't understand the interpretation of Lindsey Marshall's Emilia. She is dressed in military uniform, very small and scraggy with mannered and awkward salutes. It is hard to see her as the object of anyone's sexual desire. In the first half she seems loyal to Othello and Desdemona and there is no explanation for her change in the second half, when she eagerly obtains the handkerchief, which is the evidence Iago asks for, to frame Cassio and Desdemona. Emilia's role is the least explicable in Hytner's production where she seems to be the evil troll.

Rising star Jonathan Bailey plays the upper class Cassio whose patrician and courteous tones are mimicked by Iago. Olivia Vinall's pretty Desdemona is many years younger than her husband; she is seen in crop pants and appears rather lonely in this military marriage she has embarked on.

Adrian Lester's performance is understated and totally believable. We see his mind start to unravel and it is painful and moving. His handsome and noble Othello is mercilessly scammed by Rory Kinnear's Iago who is referred to by all as “honest” Iago with such frequency that the statement becomes deeply ironic. When Othello collapses in an epileptic fit, it is in the wash rooms and he vomits. We are seeing his physical collapse as well as an emotional one.

As he is called honest by Cassio, Kinnear turns to look directly at the audience as if challenging us to contradict Cassio. Nervous laughter from the audience is their reaction to his chilling effrontery. The racism is wounding as Iago calls Othello the “thick lips” to the buffoon Roderigo (Tom Robertson). Rory Kinnear has become in a few years our most interesting stage actor, capable of a range of very different roles and, with each one, bringing an originality of interpretation and body language I don't remember seeing before.

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Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Starring: Adrian Lester, Rory Kinnear, Jonathan Bailey, Olivia Vinall, Lyndsey Marshall
With: Tom Robertson, William Chubb, Robert demeger, Nick Sampson, Joseph Wilkins, Rebecca Tanwen, David Carr, Chook Sibtain, Sandy Batchelor, Gabriel Fleary, Scott Karm, Roksaneh Ghawam-Shahidi, Jonathan Dryden Taylor, Adam Berry, David Kirkbride, Tom Radford
Designed by Vicki Mortimer
Music: Nick Powell
Lighting: Jon Clark
Sound: Gareth Fry
Choreography: Jane Gibson
Running time: Three hours 15 minutes including an interval
Box Office: 020 7452 3000
Booking to 18th August 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 11th May 2013 matinee performance at the Olivier, Royal National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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