Othello, Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre, London. June 2013
After a wonderful performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in the original setting was the decision to see Othello in modern dress a mistake? I've found in the past that seeing Shakespeare in a dark theatre far harder to engage with...
I needn't have feared. The Olivier Theatre stage isn't a proscenium arch and the lighting set up meant that the theatre wasn't pitch black!
In this performance the action has been transposed to modern Cyprus and is set on a modern day army base - this worked very well for me and I engaged with the characters from the outset.
Othello is a play that I have previously studied a little and I think that this did help with the interpretation. Othello comes across as easily led and you can't understand how such a respected man can be so weak, but knowing that he feels out of place as a black leader in a white world makes this corruption comprehensible.
While the play is called Othello for me Iago was the focus and Rory Kinnear played him wonderfully - keeping him from being a total pantomime villain whilst still being delightfully evil and scheming. The cast as a whole backed up the two leads and although Shakespeare didn't write strong female characters in this play both Desdemona and Emilia made the most of their roles.
The modern setting worked very well, and the staging was simple but brilliant - it really did look like a hurriedly constructed army camp, all concrete blocks and offices in former containers. The only thing that jarred with the setting was when Othello hits his wife in public. While in the late 1500s this would have passed without comment I'd like to think that the modern army would have punished him on the spot.
I saw this play with Rebecca and I think I enjoyed it more than her, perhaps because it was my first time seeing the play or perhaps because I did have the little bit of insight for a play that did have some ambiguity. The one thing that I hope passes soon is the fashion for having characters throw up on stage - at least this was more off stage than in Macbeth but is it really necessary?