dir. Nicholas Hytner
Thursday’s viewing of William Shakespeare’s Othello was an eye-opener for those who are unaware of the differences between reading and watching a play. As people settled into their seats, preparing themselves for a three-hour production, an air of excitement was evident. As the play began, gripping music floated out of the speakers demanding the attention of all of the audience and so the experience began.
The audience was first acquainted with the character of Iago (played by Rory Kinear) outside a pub in London. Rory Kinear was the perfect choice for Iago from his appearance to his demeanor and speech. He seemed approachable, non-threatening and just a normal guy who could be your best pal. Due to this fact he was, as in the play, the most inconceivable threat. He quickly gained the trust of Roderigo (Tom Robertson) using his charm, wit, and quick ability to ascertain the desires of his peers. Iago quickly won the hearts of the audience by his likability, comedic nature, and got the audience to empathize with his plights. Roderigo, who seemed bland in the text, became the most comical element of the play because of his gullibility and child-like nature. If at the any moment the play was getting too serious, Roderigo popped in and was able to crack the audience up.
Yet, Adrian Lester (who played Othello) demanded the respect and attention of the audience as soon as he stepped foot on stage. His presence was compelling even as he adjusted the sleeves of his jacket. All eyes were directed at him, and his aura was captivating. Lester exemplified the greatness Othello through his eloquent speech, his honest words and actions and essentially was “the valiant Moor”. Lester depicted Othello as a great man of military genius and showed the audience why Othello deserved to be the central character and have the play named Othello. His endearing qualities also explained how he won over Desdemona (played by Olivia Minall). Minall depicted Desdemona as an extremely naïve and child-like girl. It was easier to understand why Othello would fall in love Desdemona because she was essentially a child and untainted by the war-like world of Othello. Minall showed this innocence by skipping around the stage, her doe-eyed expressions, and the fact that in almost every scene she was wearing a white shirt (symbolizing her innocence). The love between Othello and Desdemona was shown much more clearly in the play. Othello and Desdemona’s cute banter and secret kisses and actions made the viewer see how much they were in love (unlike the play itself) and make the couple more likeable. This difference was key because now the audience empathized much more with Othello who is heartbroken and completely destroyed. Lester perfectly played the scene in which we see Othello break down. The anguish was apparent in his face and voice and seemed less pathetic. Iago’s betrayal was far more potent in the viewing because of his complete disregard for Othello’s pain and his mocking actions and jeers. In fact, Kinear played Iago in such a way that Iago seemed to be getting a certain high off of seeing his plans put into motion.
Johnathan Bailey played Cassio and demonstrated the dimensions of a character. He was a loyal soldier and friend, a bad drunk, an ambitious man, and trusting to a fault. Bailey also added a comical element to Cassio in the scene when Cassio gets drunk. His body language, slurring of words, and dubious expression made the audience break out into laughter. His actions towards Desdemona also allowed the audience to understand why Othello would believe Iago so easily. Cassio and Desdemona embraced freely and quite often in the play and this allowed the seed of doubt to be planted in the minds of the audience as well. In comparison with the character of Cassio, was the character of Emilia (played by Lyndsey Marshal). Her character was dressed in military garb, which was a surprising choice yet completely understandable. Emilia was depicted as a woman in an inherently male society, yet unlike Desdemona, she was aware of what this entails. Instead of being completely oblivious and blind to the politics of word she understood the nature of this world and what it would take to survive. Marshal depicted Emilia as a pragmatist and lead me to believe that she would survive the tragic sequence of events. She was a woman who thought like a man, and was not ashamed of it, and this definitely made me root for her. I felt that her provoking dialogues and her shrewd judge of human nature made her the female star of the play.
This play was set in modern London instead of Venice (as in the book), but the setting did not derail the flow of the play because it put forth the message that this play is not confined to a certain period in time. The modern world can still have the problems and issues of miscommunication, betrayal, and murder. I believe that this made the play easier to relate to for audience. The casting was also perfect because the characters were hyper-versions themselves, which made the plot more understandable. Iago’s manipulation was more believable and undetected because of the respect and trust people bore in him. The actors played their roles to T, and because of this the plot seemed a lot more believable.
I believe that the play was cast to perfection and the actors added new dimensions to their characters making the play more believable, entertaining, and notable. I thoroughly enjoyed this viewing, and was very pleasantly surprised. (R. Bhaya, September 2013
dir. Nicholas Hytner
Othello’s come a long way since its first performance in 1604. On September 26, a few of us went to the Kew Gardens Cinema to see Nicholas Hytner’s take on the famous production. This William Shakespeare play was broadcasted by the National Theatre Live. NTL takes shows performed on the London stage and broadcasts them across the world. This way, every viewer is guaranteed the best seat in the house. It was as close to the real thing as possible, except the whole sitting in a Queens movie theatre and saving tons of money.
Adrian Lester takes on the title role—Othello. He plays the General in the Venetian army, and as soon as he walks into the first scene I felt his sense of control. Rory Kinnear plays Iago, Othello’s ensign. Kinner pulls off the unlikeable character well, and he manages to steal many of the scenes he is in with his booming voice and sneakiness. And then there is Desdemona, played by Olivia Vinall. I personally did not enjoy the character when reading the play, but actually seeing this performance made me dislike her even more. She comes across as peppy, touchy, and childish. Her interactions with Cassio (Jonathan Bailey) make it seem very believable that there was an actual relationship between the two. My personal favorite character would have to be Roderigo (Tom Robertson.) I had not caught onto his humor while reading the play, so I found it to be an enjoyable surprise. His presence lightened the mood of the darker scenes, what with his always-confused expressions and constant running about.
The modern retelling was a nice touch. Seeing Othello’s war being compared to the wars in the Middle East made the story more relatable. Othello’s transformation scene was one of the most powerful. We watch as he loses the composed demeanor of a general and turn into the savage everyone implies he is. He has a complete breakdown, and the entire scene depicts his downward spiral. While race does not play a prominent role in this story, we see towards the end of the play just how much society’s views shaped Othello.
Now I’ll admit—I was hoping to enjoy the performance more than I did. It wasn’t so much this actual adaption that I didn’t like, but more the play itself. True—it was much easier to watch the production than read it, being that I couldn’t catch onto the humor or the pure stupidity of the characters. Even though Kinnear and Lester did fantastic jobs as the leads, I still couldn’t connect. Something lacks in the writing. I find the story to be unbelievable. There is too much of a dependence on the characters keeping their mouths shut in ways that are impossible. Come on, Shakespeare. I know you can do better. (J. Debois, September 2013)