Review – Othello, Donmar Warehouse. With Ewan McGregor

Tuesday 4 December 2007

WEW - OthelloWell, 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.

images.jpgThe 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.


12 Responses to “Review – Othello, Donmar Warehouse. With Ewan McGregor”

  1. jdmyatt Says:

    I’m sure you know this – being cunning veterans of theatrical manoeuvres – hence the profile view of ottoman, hanky and finale – but you can queue for day tickets at the donmar. Best seats are a mere, oh i don’t know, £35? And once they sell out, there’s a few standing seats (the seat being the floor).

    Now, I’m not very clever but if I had some money and wanted to show off about seeing a film star in a big room with lots of lights, I’m sure it would be a lot cheaper to employ one of my poorer friends, or perhaps one of their nannies, to queue for said ticket. Much cheaper, I imagine, than £2 milllion English pounds on ebay.

    And! the second time I saw Parade was a standing doodah (I’ve decided against calling it a seat). For £7.50 I had plenty of room to wave my arms, breath, lean in a variety of ways on the barrier in front, and even remove myself completely from the scene when events got a little traumatic. Much better than the side-on sardine pate, so usual to my Donmar experience (the elderly American’s cramp during Parade’s courtroom finale was very offputting – imagine a tweed jacket being waved in your face just as a dance routine is kicking off!)

    I now know another word for through-line: locus. thank you. It’s a much better word.

  2. daveonthego Says:

    Priceless! Sounds like antiques Roadshow at the Donmar this week. You could have had your vintage corsetry valued, that Henry Sandon is marvelous. I am a little concerned that Andrew is going to drag out that tired old deer stalker and drape Jones the cat around him again in the manor of Elanor Glynn.

  3. Baz B Says:

    I totally resent the suggestion it is I stalking the West End Whingers.For heavens sake!I don’t even know what you look like.Are you from these shores?Are you even English,damn it all.
    I put it to you,that it is the West End Whingers who stalk me!And how dare you.
    I’ve now travelled to the other side of the bloody world just to be shot of the pair of you.
    Baz B.

  4. Ha, sez the Baz who once mistook me for Philip Fisher of the British Theatre Guide. Or possibly vice-versa, I forget. Mind you, Newsnight Review anchor John Wilson once mistook Athol Fugard for me. No word of a lie.

    No, Iago, don’t give in to the Dark Side… these aren’t the handkerchiefs you’re looking for… etc. (Chiwetel Ejiofor also has serious SF-movie cred as the wannabe nemesis in Joss Whedon’s “Firefly”, but that’s not as easily parodiable.)

    Oh, and also: choose life, Desdemona.

  5. Rob Says:

    how long is the play?

  6. E Moffat Says:

    I think that the restrictions that have been placed on viewing this performance are entirely deliberate and completely apalling. The Directors and organisers should feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves and those persons who managed to privilege their way to a production viewing should also feel thouroughly ashamed.

    First, the production itself is an adaptation of a well known Shakespearean play. It’s in the National Curriculum. The benefit of schools, and students, and workers, and poor people watching the production are profound. I urge the the Government’s Department For Culture, Media and Sport to step in urgently.

    Second, the production is in London West End in Covent Garden, so the potential popularity of the production ought reasonably to have been ever more clear to the organisers.

    Third, it will bring business and tourism into Covent Garden, and the surrounding restaurants and businesses will do well.

    I am very angry I am unable to book tickets for myself and my family to watch the production. I am very angry that I am unable to participate. Not that I would want to go if I had the tickets – given many people in theatre are up themselves in their exclusivity and privilege, creating social circles to shut out people from seeing the shows.
    It’s all too similar to the restrictions placed on ordinary people and the public from being able to see films at the Cannes Film Festival, etc etc etc.

    I feel deep resentment towards the actors and their agents, and the organisers for limiting the production run. It is a decision that, given the above three points, is unsustainable. I would strongly advise people not to go to see this production until:

    1. the producers and the organisers stop playing their games and pranks which are deliberately designed to maximise demand. Stop the various initiatives designed to maximise demand (e.g. limiting number of tickets etc)
    2. extend the production run
    3. lower the ticket prices so that they are more affordable to people who don’t usually go to the theatre (e.g. £10 Travelex).

    This is from Ebay 00:32 on December 8th 2007:

    ” 2 tickets ROW A Ewan McGregor Othello Donmar Sat Jan 12 22 £350.00 5.00P+P 20h 22m ”
    “Othello – 2 tickets January 31st – Ewan Mcgregor 7 £185.00 Free P+P 19h 10m ”
    “Othello – 2 tickets February 21st – Ewan Mcgregor 19 £185.00 Free P+P 19h 13m ”
    “2 Tickets Front Row Othello at Donmar Theatre 17 Dec 6 £105.00 £3.00 P+P 20h 12m ”
    “2 seats – Othello at Donmar Warehouse Thur 17/1/2008 13 £310.00 £2.50 19h 37m ”

    The above screenshot is from E Bay. It appears people are deliberately buying Othello tickets simply in order to make an enormous profit from them by selling them on at an extortionate mark up. .

    This practice is absolutely appalling. I urgently demand that the Government steps in to pass laws to ban this practice, no matter what impact it has on people’s ability to freely bargain. Anonymous internet users are profiteering from the goodwill of another company, their production, and this is exploitation. THe public are also being exploited.

    I will be submitting the idea to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

    This practice is unfair and should be stopped. E-Bay should remove the tickets immediately

  7. I really hope that last comment is sarcastic. Forgive me, I know it’s usually seen as bad manners online, but I feel this does need to be shouted:


    All productions are restricted; they’re restricted to the capacity of the venue and the length of the run. You’re pissed off that you can’t get tickets for this one. Fine. That’s your problem. And, for the avoidance of doubt, the problem is not that you can’t get tickets, it’s that you feel pissed off about it. It’s no business of anyone else’s, let alone the law’s. Live with it.

    Oh, I see you have. Even if you had the tickets, you wouldn’t want to go. So you’re very angry that you can’t book tickets you wouldn’t want to use. You’re just fuming as a hobby, then?

    And by the way, what would you do with the tickets you wouldn’t use if you’d got them? Surely you wouldn’t just throw them away, after paying all that money for them?

  8. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Oh fantastic a fight, keep it up guys, more please!

  9. Sorry, I’ve seen Mr/Ms Moffat’s comments on the Guardian blog site and fallen into a hundred-year doze.

  10. Nadia Bradwell Says:

    I suppose you thought that review was funny. I love shakespear and I hear this Othello was fantastic. I just wish I could have seen it. I live in Canada but have relatives in London but just couldn’t make it. I did hear from some people that love shakespeare that this production was great and that Ewan Mcgregor was perfect as Iago.

  11. Nadia, belated response, but, uh, it is funny. I just popped back to read it again because it makes me laugh (and because the show just weirdly got a South Bank Show award over a year after it opened).

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