Well, it’s all go at the Donmar. Signs outside the door saying that bags will be searched (they weren’t) and people with headsets busying around the auditorium telling you to switch off your mobile phones (not everyone did).
Yesterday saw the last preview of Othello at the Donmar Warehouse and the Whingers – being “friends” of the Donmar Warehouse – were rewarded for their friendship by being seated once again in the side rows while luminaries such as former Home Secretary Kenneth Baker (Baron Baker of Dorking), Michael Billington, Mark Lawson and the Whingers’ über stalker Baz Bamigboye were in the seats which faced the action, so presumably they got to see Othello’s big speech and death (sorry – should have said earlier: plot spoilers in here).
Anyway, in case you have been on another planet for the last few months, did you see Phil there? And also, this new production of Othello stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (pronounced [/tʃuwɛtəl ɛdʒəfɔː/] apparently) and Ewan McGregor and – according to the hype – tickets have been changing hands for £1,200.
So you can imagine how grumpy Andrew was knowing that he had nigh on £5k (street value) of merchandise in his pocket which he was practically giving to Phil and guests Katy and Lady Skipper (face value of £20 plus a “handling fee” for Andrew’s trouble and a “restoration fee” to go towards Phil’s Botox programme).
Bizarrely, it emerged last night that this is the first time ever that the Whingers have been to see a William Shakespeare play together (despite Andrew’s protestations Phil is insisting that Kiss Me Kate doesn’t count) so it was with some trepidation (three hours 15 minutes’ worth) that they took their bench.
For those who haven’t studied the play, Othello is about soft furnishings and haberdashery. There is a lot of fuss about handkerchiefs – so much so that Phil had to be restrained from throwing his handy pack of Kleenex onto the stage to defuse one of the many handkerchief-related rows (although no-one actually seemed to have a cold; it was all very puzzling) and hasten things up so that there might be a chance of having a drink afterwards (Fat chance).
Director Michael Grandage and designer Christopher Oram have gone for a very Shakespearean take on the play. There are a lot of men standing up and shouting and there was an audible sigh of relief from Andrew when an Ottoman appeared and people were able to sit down.*
Indeed, up until that point it was all very gloomy – a very dark stage with echoing sound and puddles on the floor. It was all very atmospheric but Andrew was struggling to stay awake (it was very hot) until the furniture arrived at which point things perked up.
Indeed, there seemed to be an in-joke here as in the second half, Iago cried “Oh, for a chair to bear him easily hence… A chair! A chair!”
Indeed, the arc (or “locus”) of Othello is characterised by a very clear trajectory towards bigger and more opulent furnishings with the climactic scenes featuring a very large bed and some highly impressive curtains.
Anyway, yes, very Shakespearean – codpieces, beards, more shouting and trousers that put Andrew in mind of Puss in Boots – perhaps a nod to the fact that this is the Donmar’s Christmas production.
Performances? Well, all very creditable. Chiwetel Ejiofor was as usual charismatic, but bizarrely played the role as Darcus Howe, and Kelly Reilly (with a costume which contrived to provide her with a marvellously pneumatic bust) did a terrific Desdemona. Phil thought she was, for once, a tad bland, but thought her big scene with Emilia was very affecting. Well, what he could see of it through the crepuscular mist; he felt he was watching it through a layer of tweed.
The Whingers particularly loved Michelle Fairley (Emilia) who coped magnificently with all the fuss over handkerchiefs.
The crucial hankie started off as a nicely pressed piece of linen, but after changing hands several times (it’s a plot thing) was a scrunched up mess. Andrew wouldn’t be seen dead with that one like that in his breast pocket, Phil wanted to leap on stage with an iron. All sympathised with the wardrobe people.
Who else was in it? Oh, yes, Ewan McGregor (shorter than you imagine) seemed anxious not to allow his Star Wars Star Status to overshadow Othello and skulked around a lot in the shadows which Oram had thoughtfully provided (much to the chagrin of Andrew’s contact lenses which complained all evening).
McGregor coped with the verse quite naturally. Iago a funny old role, really, as it’s not clear quite (or, at least, is wasn’t last night) why he’s such a nasty piece of work (or what Emilia sees in him) and then at the end Shakespeare doesn’t seem to know either because Iago just refuses to say another word about it. McGregor didn’t come over as particularly menacing or evil or deranged or racist – just very busy somehow.
But he did sport one of the more impressive codpieces; was this some kind of in-joke?
There was an awful lot of jealousy last night (don’t worry, the Whingers aren’t exploring Shakespearean themes; they’d never stoop so low) mostly from acquaintances and friends who wondered how on earth the Whingers got hold of tickets. The audience (apart from said mobile) seemed unusually quiet and attentive, presumably because some of them paid stupid amounts of boodle on ebay for their tickets, just to be able to say they went. No signs of touts outside. Very disappointing.
Anyway, the Whingers are not qualified to comment on whether this is a good Othello or a bad one. Nevertheless it’s one of the hottest tickets in town just behind The Spice Girls tour and an invite to one of Christopher Biggins’ dinner parties. Let’s hope Biggins has as impressive upholstery.
1. The highlight of the evening was a fabulous elderly fur-coated woman smoking a pipe outside the Donmar at the interval. Actually it seemed she was just getting it going for her husband, but it’s given Andrew a wonderful idea for his “New Year Look”.
2. There was also a character called Cassio (Tom Hiddleston) presumably named after the electronic keyboard. The Whingers have to admit Shakespeare was so ahead of his time and hope it starts a retro comeback for the brand.
*Yes, we stole this gag from Victoria Wood.