Having the chance to see two amazing productions of Othello within two weeks is not something that happens often. The Stratford production was so good, it was hard to imagine another could come near it.The National Theatre broadcast its’ production and it was fantastic. But the two productions could not be more different.
The NTL production is focused on the military aspect of the play. Director Nicholas Hytner saw a play about a troop of men who go to fight a war that is cancelled before it begins. They are left to the boredom and restlessness, drinking and fighting that happens when groups of men are cooped up together. The struggle between Iago and Othello takes place in this context, although it is hard to see it as a struggle between them, since Othello does not even know it is happening until the very end.
Two very powerful performances dominate this play. Rory Kinnear is perfect as Iago. Using modern English pronunciation allowed him to be the lower class soldier – the non-com, who does all the work and gets none of the credit. His every gesture and look brought this message home.
Adrian Lester is also very good as Othello, although I did not like the overly emotional and early collapse into tears. I think Othello needs to continue to be the cold soldier until he finally snaps. So this performance of Othello was not as much to my taste as the performance of Dion Johnstone in the role at Stratford.
The military focus of this production overwhelms the love story. Desdemona is described by the director as “feisty” but her performance was all feist and no substance. The depth of love shown in Bethany Jillard’s portrayal was missing.
The death scene was much longer in the NTL performance as were several other scenes including a drunken brawl that leads to the disgrace of Michael Cassio. The total running time was at least fifteen minutes longer than the Stratford production, but the extra time did not add to the production.
I loved the production, but i loved the Stratford version more.


About cathyriggall

Theatre junkie, who thinks live theatre is the ultimate form of living on the edge. You never know what will happen when an actor steps on the stage.
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2 Responses to Othello

  1. Keith Potter says:

    Okay, Cathy’s stealing all my comments again! Both versions were excellent, bit with a different focus. Kinnear is fantastic whenever we see him. He is so ordinary-looking, but has such intensity. The National Theatre set was great, and the military emphasis was enlightening, but Stratford’s focus on the relationships was probably more effective and, outside the two leads (strong in both productions) the Stratford cast seemed to catch the characters better.
    Both productions were great and to see the production was a marvelous opportunity in either case – my preference is just a matter of taste.

  2. Pat Chun Taite says:

    Wish I could have seen the Stratford production, but I did love the NTL one, drunken brawl and all. I have seen productions with less emphasis on the military, and I prefer this one. No, no, not because I am American, but rather because the claustrophobic camp environment intensifies everyone’s behavior and clarifies their motives and character. Maybe it just makes it easier for us untutored types to understand. I thought, too, that Emilia became feisty enough, even if Desdemona didn’t.

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