Photo: Myah Jeffers

It’s an impressive feat for a play to be largely traditional and yet a bold re-interpretation but Clint Dyer’s staging of Shakespeare’s Othello at the National Theatre manages to achieve both. Opening against a backdrop of previous production posters for the play, it subsequently embarks on a surprisingly faithful telling of the story, but against a brutal, angular set, and with a contemporary focus on the underlying domestic violence issues which is not something we’ve really seen considered in previous versions of the play.

For those unfamiliar with this particular Shakespeare tragedy, it tells of the titular Othello (Giles Terera), the Moor of Venice. The society of the day manipulates him for his military talents but will not treat him with respect as he is black. Iago (Paul Hilton), a soldier who has fought alongside Othello, is angry that he has been overlooked for promotion by his general and plots his revenge. Desdemona (Rosy McEwan), a white woman who defies the wishes of her father to marry Othello, is the focus of Iago’s plotting although she’s far less of a helpless victim than we’ve seen in some productions.

It’s a trio of impressive turns from our three leads. We most recently caught Giles Terera at the National Theatre in Blues for an Alabama Sky – there, he was the light comic relief playing a camp costume designer; his Othello is a million miles from this. Powerful and brutal, he casts a commanding figure yet it’s a nuanced performance and he’s evidently not a hero to be celebrated, nor is Rosy McEwan’s Desdemona a weak woman to be pitied – hers is a resilient and eloquent performance. Paul Hilton – who many will remember as E. M. Forster in The Inheritance – is a believably scheming and cruel Iago.

We were suitably impressed with the National Theatre’s bold and powerful production of Othello – this manages to get the balance pretty much spot on between shining a light on contemporary issues while remaining true to the original text. There are also plenty of great acting performances on display here. We’re aware that a show like this won’t be for everyone – it’s pretty heavy going and clocks in at a hefty three hours – but for those looking for their Shakespeare fill this comes highly recommended.

GAY TIMES gives Othello – 4/5

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