He fucked a pig for Charlie Brooker (in ‘Black Mirror’) and presumably paid off the mortgage with his recurring role as an MI6 dogsbody in the recent Bond films, but balding, babyfaced Rory Kinnear is apparently too normal-looking for the stardom that his talents surely deserve. Which is alright by me: every time he appears on stage is a bonus, and the NT’s much anticipated ‘Othello’ is no exception.
It’s not a solo show: Adrian Lester is powerful and poignant in the title role of the doomed black general. And director Nicholas Hytner is the man with the guiding vision for this taut, claustrophobic interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy (it’s sobering to think this might be the last time the NT boss – who steps down in 2015 - directs one of the Bard’s works here).
But it is Kinnear as Othello’s nemesis Iago who steals the show in Hytner’s modern dress military production, where most of the action takes place in the middle of the night, under disorientating arc lights or inside the sterile pre-fab army command buildings of Vicki Mortimer’s set.
Iago is often regarded as Shakespeare’s greatest villain, a trusted subordinate of Othello’s who wrecks his general’s life and marriage because he's been passed over for promotion. Usually he’s portrayed as unhinged; but Kinnear presents a far more unnerving interpretation.
His Iago is a blokey everyman whose demolition of his boss’s psyche via a drip feed of lies and innuendo seems to be more a response to the exaggerated tensions and chronic boredom of life in the field than any real psychosis. He is, in a very real sense, a workplace bully. The most chilling thing about his wisecracking, estuary-accented villain is how ordinary he is: at the play’s climax, there is a terrifying look of incomprehension on Kinnear’s face, as if he cannot fathom the devastation he has wrought, or what he got out of it.
With an ensemble that encompasses various ethnicities, Othello’s race is largely irrelevant here. Instead the tragedy of the excellent Lester’s dignified general is that he is a military man – he loves his vivacious young wife Desdemona (excellent newcomer Olivia Vinall), but he really doesn’t understand her, or much about life outside of tight army power structures.
What Hytner’s gripping, lucid and slightly too dour production makes eminently clear is that in a military world, it’s not Lester’s black man who is the outsider, but Vinall’s civilian woman. Gaily holding hands with her soldier friend Casio, Desdemona’s free-spirited, boho behaviour is completely at odds with her husband’s. Lester’s general falls apart because as a man used to rigid discipline, he simply isn’t capable of understanding his wife’s behaviour – he turns on Desdemona less from rage than confusion, and it is utterly heartbreaking. Andrzej Lukowski
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Agree with the comments below about the juvenile start to the review above by Andrzej Lukowski, but also don't get the adulation in the rest of his review. This was an enjoyable evening out (going to the National almost always is), but this is not a great or memorable performance of Othello. Setting the play in a modern setting was not successful - one does not get the feeling of international power politics and dramatic consequence lying behind what happens to the main protagonists and it results in the denouement happening in what is clearly an Ikea-furnished bedroom - how grand is that! Lyndsey Marshall is a little flat as Iago’s wife Emilia Olivia and Olivia Vinall’s is a not-too-convincing Desdemona, more 16-year old school girl than anything else. However, the lack of any real spark between Othello and Iago, was the most disappointing aspect of the play. Overall, this was not a bad performance, but given the hype beforehand my expectations were high and not met. If you get to see it, fine, but if you don't manage to get tickets, don't worry the National will be doing much better things than this in the months to come.
agree with chap below - really stupid to begin a review so crudely. a) I have absolutely no idea what you are on about b) its not really appropriate when thousands of young students of Othello might read this and c) it suggests to me an immature and show-offy reviewer trying to steal the limelight from the play he is reviewing
Othello by William Shakespeare National Theatre July 3rd- October 5th Whilst the setting of the majority of the play in an army camp in Cyprus brings out the timelessness of Shakespeare's play it does so at a price. Redundant amid the pistols and machine guns of modern warfare is the colourful images evoked by lines such as 'Keep up your bright swords for the dew will rust them' for this production is uniformly beige. The walls of the compound, dress of the combatants and even the ground may accurately reflect the ubiquitous colour of mediterranean island in summer but Othello is not like his men: he is a bird of paradise amid house sparrows. Except in this production he is not and this makes it far more difficult to believe in Desdemona's attraction to him. Moreover fine actor that Adrian Lester is, he lacks the physical stature of a General being small in height and slight in build: he lacks majesty and grandeur. Iago is a wonderful role and Rory Kinnear revels in the malevolence of the part. He is particularly effective in weaving isolated scraps of 'evidence' into a tale believed by the man he is determined to ruin. Equally good is Lyndsey Marshall who is a down to earth female soldier. Yet she is also Iago's wife Emilia and there is no chemistry between them nor is there much between Othello and Desdemona (Olivia Vinall). Cyprus is a man's club where there is little value is placed upon the feminine virtues and women are only endured if they are 'one of the boys'. Whilst this production is worth seeing it is not one people will remember in years to come as they did with Olivier's Othello. It is competent rather than dazzling and drab rather than breathtaking. *** ( 3 stars)
I thoroughly enjoyed National Theatre's production of Othello. Long wanting to see the Shakespeare play since studying it back in school, the story has always carried a lot of weight to me. None of that has been lost after finally getting to see it in the flesh. Rory Kinnear as Iago is brilliant, driving the story forward as he plots Othello, Adrian Lester's, downfall. He is a villain's villain and his 'trusting' words presented in a sort of one of the boys speech would twist anyone's mind, Othello simply doesn't have a chance. How can love turn to such hate? Well Adrian Lester is superb and you can see how these twisted words sends him on a roller-coaster of emotions, doubt, confusion, passion and betrayal all war through him whilst Rory Kinnear unnervingly plays it straight. Great set designs and moody music all adds much to the performances. Well worth seeing.
It is all about colour. Unfortunately that colour is beige. Full report here http://www.frontrowdress.com/2013/04/othello-national-theatre-saturday-20.html
probably shouldn't comment after only second preview - but production is so well conceived, it's ready to go - and yes, Iago is the star. Really least favourite Shakespeare play but this is a great production for clarity and engagement