Brutality

Standard

National Theatre live broadcast:  Othello.  It’s always a bit of a panto, with the audience, if they are engaged at all, longing to shout ‘look behind you!’  This one seemed excessively theatrical in the big screen close-ups, and perhaps too frenetic, but of course the actors still have to project to the very back of the physical auditorium for the live audience, regardless of the cameras.  Evidently there were some problems with sound and microphones, with lines occasionally muffled and the crunching of clothes and impedimenta rather too obvious.  The verse was chopped brutally in speaking it, and personally I find that prosifying Shakespeare makes him less, not more, intelligible.

However, it was a good production. It brought out Iago’s pre-existing jealousy of his own wife; his familiar acquaintance with that vice making it all the easier for him to manipulate Othello.  The modern military setting worked too:  machismo confined in a small hot space, with the civilians, including Desdemona, off-balance and vulnerable among the uniforms.  The almost casual violence of the soldiers frightened the non-combatants, and us.

A number of the character roles were good and Adrian Lester was interesting as Othello, while Rory Kinnear produced a convincing rough-edged Iago.  But I don’t know that anyone could top Emrys James’ 1972 Iago, whose wit and charm made me and the whole audience complicit in the great betrayal:  a really unsettling moral experience.

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