By Aline Mahrud
WORTH A LOOK?: *** RUNTIME: 180 minutes (including 20-minute interval)
WHEN?: Saturday 3 December (matinee), runs to 21 January 2023
Director Clint Dyer told the New York Times of his 1st visit to this venue in the 80s when he saw a picture in the auditorium of Laurence Olivier in blackface in the title role of this play in the 60s that broke his heart.
- Read on for reasons including why we wanted this production of Othello to be so much better than it was
Now the National’s deputy artistic director Dyer has recently helmed Death of England and Get Up! Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical (Lyric Theatre) and here returns to the National for his take on the Shakespeare classic with a cast including Terera who won an Olivier for Hamilton.
It starts promisingly with a cast member mopping the stage floor perhaps in a sense to wipe the venue clean of the memory of its unfortunate past.
The opening scenes are dimly lit with actors emerging from the audience doors in the aisles bearing flaming torches to form a chorus sitting on the steps of an almost amphitheatre-like surround to the stage as Othello returns from battle to be hailed a hero.
But his fellow soldier Iago, played cartoonishly by Paul Hilton (The Glass Menagerie, Duke Of York’s Theatre) is plotting against Othello who perhaps should have had his concern pricked by a character dressed so evocatively to remind of fascist Oswald Mosley.
Rory Fleck Byrne’s (The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre) naive Cassio is the 1st victim of Iago’s scheming as the villain starts to sow the seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind about the faithfulness of his loving wife Desdemona, played with determination here by Rosy McEwen.
Terera’s Othello is swarthy as befitting a man who has excelled himself in battle but the actor also gives life to the torment that the character feels as Iago cleverly does the very minimum to suggest something is a problem without ever really coming out and saying so.
It is perhaps astonishing that this is the 1st Othello to be helmed by a black director at a large UK theatre and Dyer does much to highlight the inequalities that Shakespeare skewered centuries ago with a public unafraid to turn on our titular hero and women generally being treated as second class citizens.
But it’s also a languid production which is strangely paced and which we felt could have done with a little trimming particularly as its press night is already in its rear view mirror.
We loved seeing Steffan Rizzi (Vulvarine, VAULT Festival) on the National stage especially after also catching him earlier this year in Nicola Walker-starrer The Corn Is Green at this very venue as well as much earlier in his career.
We’re here in part because our companion has been studying Othello as part of an Open University Literature course and shared his disappointment that this production appeared to show great promise with its director appointment but ultimately didn’t deliver as much as we’d hoped.
We preferred the 2013 National production starring Adrian Lester and following a lacklustre version of The Crucible at this venue in 2022 and the frankly dreadful Hex currently playing, feel the National Theatre has a lot of ground to make up in 2023.
- Main picture via Facebook courtesy National Theatre Tickets
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