Thursday, September 26, 2013

Othello - the reviewers were right

First performance by the King’s Men at the court of James I in November 1604.
Olivia Vinall as Desdemona, Adrian Lester as Othello
at the National Theatre

Photo: Alastair Muir

Four hundred years later and I can go to one of Shakespeare’s plays and feel the themes are current.

The Guardian and Telegraph reviewers were right. Brilliant setting. The staging in the concrete bunkers – chilling.

Adrian Lester was a larger than life, Othello. Rory Kinnear played the kind of Iago that let the audience know how hateful and dangerous he was.

Nicholas Hytner, the director, gave a pre-performance interview with Emma Freud. I will know him anywhere. Soft spoken voice, his eyelids, like perfect round awnings – how theatrical is that!

 Kate Waters, the fight director was interviewed after the 15 minute break. The fight scene had the woman next to me, an old English Teacher colleague of Kelvins, laughing. And the beer-drinking party was also typical. Lots of dares over alcohol.

I was glad to see the half time interview with the clips showing us how fight-director could get so many men into such a small space and have them choreographed so that they could appear to be having such a big fight. Her head-butting demo made me think I didn’t want to meet her in a dark alley.

The military director, Jonathan Shaw, pointed out that Rory Kinnear’s refusal to follow rules about dressing in correct military clothing was consistent with Iago’s character – military people who see the show comment that it is too bad he didn’t have on the correct uniform, which the military director concedes and then says, “That is the point – he is Iago.”

Kelvin’s favorite part of the show: the overall acting, especially the beginnings of Iago’s manipulations of Othello into a jealous rage. That was a breathtaking scene. He adds that the changing of sets was so smoothly done – seamless. A pleasure to watch.

Arta’s favourite part of the show: Emilia and Desdemona in the final act of the play – especially loved the ripping off of the old bedsheets and putting on Desdemona’s marriage sheets.

Gloria Dalton’s (Kelvin’s colleague) favorite part of the show? At the half she said, I have taught this play so many times to Grade XII English classes. Today the declamation of the lines made sense for me of sentences I have sometimes worried about.

What is next?

MacBeth: Oct 17, October 19, 23
Coriolanus: January 30, February 22
National Theatre 50 Years on Stage: November 2
War Horse: 2014
Frankenstein: both versions will be broadcast
Richard II: November 13

Also coming:
Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along from London's West End: November 7.  I have read the Guardian's review on this show.  Looks like a show not to be missed.    So nice to know we can see it in a local theatre.  Beats the cost of flying to London to see it.



  1. I want to see this show now!!! How exciting it sounds. Matthew and I have debated whether or not to attend these shows. One of the arguments against is that you can't "see" the whole set and everything that's going on. I think, after reading your review, we should at least give It one try. My only concern is that I don't know many of the plays or operas, and I'm not sure which would be of interest for me. As Aro Volturi would say, "only the KNOWN is safe". That may help demonstrate my interests in literature ...

  2. Stacey, your comment made me think about my conversation last night with the woman who sat next to me. She says she can't afford to go to all of the series: the dance, the museums, the theatre; the opera. She was writhing over the $22 saying, few budgets can afford all of the shows.

    I am always seeing the other side of the coin. To fly to London, stay overnight and then fly home, plus the cost of the ticket there (I am guess forty pounds for a seat that isn't that good) -- now I would be looking at over $1,000 to see a play live. I know there is a magic about the theatre, the darkness, the other audience members, walking into the beautiful theatres -- all of that is spectacular.

    The trade-off when I see the shows here, is that I get close-ups on the faces, nuances of gestures, like those around the mouth or eyes, that I can't see when I am in the real theatres. I like that about NT Live.

    What is accessible to people is another problem. Opera can turn some people right off. I am not thrilled with dance. The Gallery Series -- well I like them because, for example, I could never have flown to the special shows, and I like to go because the dialogue along with the pictures opens up a visual world that I am not familiar with.

    For anyone who wants to know what my top three pics would be for shows coming this year, I would say the following:
    1. War Horse -- I don't like shows about war or animals. But I saw this live in London, and went back a day later to see it again. I went initially because everyone who has ever seen it, seems to recommend it highly. I think they were all right.
    2. Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. Get there early. NT Live rarely gives us musical theatre. I am guessing this will be sold out. Get your tickets early. Not to be missed.
    3. Frankenstein or La Boheme. A toss up. You choose. I will be in the back row, watching both.

  3. This was absolutely the best Othello I have seen. It was hard, but good. I did read a Cole's Notes summary in advance, just to remind me of the general plot, and that really helped.

  4. When you say this was the best Othello you have ever seen, I have to say that half way through the play I began to wonder if I had ever seen it before or not. I seemed to know about the handkerchief and about the father's reaction to the marriage of his daughter. I tried to look way back in my memory to find my first images of this play.

    I think now I saw the 1952 film version directed by and starring Orson Welles but I saw it much later than 1952. The first Shakespeare I ever saw was Julius Caesar -- I went to the movies alone -- the Plaza theatre. James Mason was in the film. I will never forget the speec that went, "This was the noblest Roman of them all / all the conspirators, save only he did what they did in envy of great Ceasar / He only in a general honest thought / And common good to all, made one of them." The movie was black and white, but that didn't matter to me. A whole new world was opened up.

    Well, that is the nice thing about long term memory. Obviously I still have that going for me.

    Thanks for the phone call from Duncan. So glad he went to see Othello, even though he wonders what kind of a mother would take her son to a play like that. He knows that MacBeth is next. Lucky him to see these stellar performances.