We are not in the habit of issuing public service announcements but…
Check your tickets. Emily Mackay-ishly thinking to intimidate us by the use of quarter-hours, evening performances of Othello start at 7.15pm. Arrive on time so you won’t have to be guided to your seat in crepuscular gloom at the first suitable break in the proceedings. Goodness knows what it’ll be like at the upcoming Strange Interlude which starts at the even more intimidating 6.30pm. Just how long is it going to be? Anyone need a pair of tickets?
Anyhoo, as we departed the theatre (again the quarter, but this the one before 11pm) thoughts turned to the question of Adrian Lester‘s age and “Are Othellos – like policeman – getting younger?”
The answer is no. Lester presumably has an effective moisturising regime. He is 44. Phil’s first Othello, David Harewood was 32 at the time. The Whingers’ last one, Chiwetel Ejiofor a mere 30. Happily, like the rest of us, they’re actually getting older. The thing is, as Andrew’s friend Nina is wont to say, “Black don’t crack”.
Othello is one of Shakespeare’s more ripping plots despite the annoying Romeo and Juliet-ish “D’oh! Just didn’t get there in time” ending. But it’s not Shakespeare’s plot of course – are they ever? – it’s whoever he pinched it from’s plot. Cinthio so they say.
Iago (Rory Kinnear) is mad at Othello. Maybe a little bit mad too. He believes the Moor may have been tupping Mrs Iago, Emilia (Lyndsey Marshal, excellent) and he’s also got the hump as he’s seen a younger, less experienced man promoted over him, so sets out to get revenge with some judicious hankie-placement.
Sometimes it’s a bit hard to swallow how relatively easily Iago convinces Othello that he’s being cuckolded by Cassio (Broadchurch‘s Jonathan Bailey). Not here. It was also probably made a bit easier for Phil as he’d recently seen the film Compliance (the extraordinary true story about the telephone hoaxer who posed as a policeman and convinced staff in fast-food outlets to strip search lower members of staff). Like that hoaxer Iago is dashed clever and always has an answer to everything.
And Iago and Othello have served in the army together a long time. Blood isn’t thicker than water when you’ve spilt it together in battle. Who you gonna believe? Your old army buddy or your new wife?
Naturally, this being the National it’s set in the present day though there’s no mention of military wives Desdemona (Olivia Vinall) and Emilia being in a choir. It’s an army compound that could be anywhere but topically happens to be Cyprus where the Venetians have decamped to defend it against the Turks. If it wasn’t for the intrusive music and director Nicholas Hytner revisiting his Miss Saigon with sounds of helicopters buzzing the proceedings you’d be able to hear the banks slamming their doors and cashpoints spitting back your cards at you.
Actually the music (Nick Powell) can intrude as much as it likes: it’s terrific. The National should get it recorded and into their shop ASAP. Vicki Mortimer’s army sets are impressive and convincing. Imagine living in that neon-lit bland starkness for any period. Don’t expect to see Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen signing up any day soon.
Act 1 was an hour and three-quarters (for those that arrived on time) but extraordinarily didn’t feel like it. Lester’s as charismatic as ever, but the devil gets the best tunes giving Kinnear possibly his finest hour (times three and a half) ever. Doubt-sowing should be a discipline in The Great British Sewing Bee. He’s also funny; it’s good to hear people laughing at a Shakespeare, not because they’re pretending to get some unfunny arcane reference, but because of his character’s supreme duplicitousness, especially when he breaks the fourth wall to keep us up to speed on his nefarious doings.
And it’s good to see on-stage vomiting back in fashion. We neglected to mention a touch of chundering in Longing; has an Othello ever thrown up over in a toilet cubicle before? Discuss.
And while we’re discussing Othello firsts (SPOILER ALERT); has Desdemona’s death ever been played out on such a cheap-looking piece of furniture? It’s a wonder the sub-IKEA bed can carry the weight of the rising body count.
Ultimately it does go on too long, (though may shorten by Press Night) but this didn’t prevent pockets of the audience ovating at the end. Assuming they weren’t merely rising to stretch their legs.
Expect Olivier nods. Expect some of the audience to arrive late. Expect the National’s next Shakespeare to be set in one of the Koreas.