9 May 2013
Adrian Lester, Rory Kinnear, Olivia Vinall, Lyndsey Marshal
Shakespeare acted is of course great entertainment when done well, but this production damn nearly matched the Bard on the Page. You could feel the audience wrapped tight in the fist of his genius as the tragedy played out. I wept for Desdemona and then I wept for Othello and then I wept because, well, it is a blessing to love Shakespeare.
At half time we consulted our WS app, to discover that Iago is the third longest role in the canon (1097 lines), and indeed the first half of the play is his show. Rory Kinnear played him as a resentful squaddie with a nicotine addiction and not entirely convincing estuary accent (but then Kinnear did go to St Paul’s). He (Iago, not Kinnear) was unlikeable from the start. My own view is that this is the wrong way to play him. The humour in the part should be used to charm the audience. The devil is a gentleman. That being said, Kinnear’s bully-boy did increase in malevolence as the night went on. In the great Act 3 scenes we witnessed Iago’s diabolical authority replace Othello’s self-regarding command, Kinnear’s vulgarity trump Lester’s high pomp. It got nasty.
I took some time to recover from the excising of “Put up your bright swords for the dew will rust ‘em” (replaced with, I think, “Hold your hand!”), a line which contains both Othello’s utter authority and his weakness for the orotund. This is a play which is about, among other things of course, the power of words, stories, lies – Desdemona is won with words, and Othello is gulled with words – and the line is a kind of announcement of the fact. Still, the production was admirably clear (Lester is a superb speaker) and Shakespeare is never buried by business.
I seem to be cavilling, rather than praising. The performances were almost universally good. There was hardly a longeur (but then it isn't that sort of play). A mark of the production’s quality is that we were free to talk about the play itself rather than merely the idiosyncrasies of the interpretation, etc.
Hytner has hit the spot again. His recent Shakespeares represent the best concerted bunch since Trevor Nunn’s RSC glory days.