Olivier Theatre, London
Friday 5th July 2013
Shakespeare's Othello is an intense study of the psychology of envy and ambition. General Othello is flanked by his ensign Iago, recently promoted Lieutenant Cassio and new wife Desdemona. Iago feels he deserves Cassio's promotion and the development of the plot - through horror, madness and inevitable bloodshed - essentially stems from this original snub.
This utterly spellbinding production brings the action into a modern setting; an oak lined Government boardroom in Venice making way for concrete jungles and camouflaged soldiers on the Maltese front, strip lighting and metal cabinets giving an institutional feel to the offices and mess room.
Othello, the Moor of Venice, is played with captivating presence and strength by Adrian Lester. His style is earnest and he gives a heart wrenching performance of the character's emotional decline as the lies designed by Iago begin to take root and turn him against his loving wife. Desdemona herself is played by Olivia Vinall with grace and a breezy trusting innocence. Her sudden and shockingly dramatic descent is arguably one of Shakespeare's most tragic - a brutal murder of a total innocent at the hands of the one she loves most - and this excellent performance is completely devastating. Jonathan Bailey plays the doomed lieutenant Cassio with an easy likability, a comedic lightheartedness from a hapless Rodrigo by Tom Robertson and quiet composure from an elegant Lyndsey Marshal as Emilia, which makes her final burst of passion all the more powerful.
Despite the title of this play, the greater line count, plot puppeteering and in this production complete mastery of performance all belong to Iago. Rory Kinnear is fast becoming one of my favourite actors and this performance is a complete tour de force. The ability to characterise a vile, hateful murderer with such grave intensity whilst holding the audience in the palm of his hand and somehow convincing us to empathise, laugh and even root for him, is a skill set that makes this production the breathtaking piece of theatre that it most certainly is. Reminiscent of Mark Rylance's wondrous Richard III last year, and worthy of the comparison, Kinnear is a complete privilege to watch.