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Othello at The National Theatre - Review by Esther Austin

I went to see Othello, Thursday 8th December at The National Theatre. I'd never seen a production of Othello before, even though I'd heard much about Othello, heard so I didn't have any expectations and even though the play was a three-hour experience, it didn't feel long at all. The performance was incredibly deep and captivating, a tale of deceit, treachery, tragedy, love, envy, and most of all betrayal and racism.

The performance was riveting and captivating, so much so, I found myself holding my breath on many occasions, wishing that the outcome would somehow be different, more pleasant maybe...hopefully and that love in this particular instance would shine through conquerors, as they say love conqueros all. However, this was just wishful thinking, for how could one change the narrative of Othello, a powerful documented historical piece of literacy - after all Othello is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest English Playwrights ever.

There were many varying levels to this tale. We see an initially pure and sated love between two people Othello a Moor – a refugee of slavery, played by Giles Terera and Desdemona the white daughter of a senator, played by Rosy McEwen. The basis around this tale is that of envy, deceit and racism. Two people who wed, but this is seen by society and the culture of the time, in a sense as an abomination. The vindictiveness of those around him makes Othello, a black man, into some sort of abomination who has somehow committed a crime or witchcraft to lure Desdemona, a white woman, to his side, to be his bride.

Those around them then create a conspiracy of lecherous doings, from Desdemona’s lady-in-waiting, to Othello’s right-hand man, Iago, powerful in his delivery performance, who swears by his love for Othello yet seeks to beguile him into a false sense of brotherhood of love and trust, by presenting to Othello that his wife is having an affair as he too cannot bear to see Desdemona with a black man, a Moor, nor can he bear the love they have which is rich and potent and for which they stand strongly together as man and wife.

And so, throughout the play we see how this is unraveled as Othello is thrown into a ball of confusion and distrust, as Iago, played by Paul Hilton, Othello’s supposedly trusted right-hand man – works the evil magic of words into Othello’s mind, creating doubt and hatred, changing his heart until he is blinded enough to murder his wife. (Iago is the play's main antagonist, and Othello's standard-bearer.) He is the husband of Emilia, who is in turn the attendant of Othello's wife Desdemona. Iago hates Othello and devises a plan to destroy him by making him believe that Desdemona is having an affair with his lieutenant, Michael Cassio.) Iago even seduces his wife to conspire with him, as she too works on her mistress's mind, Desdemona, to create more doubt. Giles plays the character of Othello with powerful and credible conviction, as he goes through the various emotional stages from the sweet, authentic tendrils of love's joyous cavort, to the darkness of insanity's mean and vindictive control.

“What is the basic story of Othello?

Iago is furious about being overlooked for promotion and plots to take revenge against his General; Othello, the Moor of Venice. Iago manipulates Othello into believing his wife Desdemona is unfaithful, stirring Othello's jealousy. Othello allows jealousy to consume him, murders Desdemona, and then kills himself.”

The play in its stark simplicity in terms of props and settings, was potently explosive in its performance. Thought-provoking as well, it held me witness to some of my own beliefs about life, acceptance, and loyalty. Othello is a definite must see.

I walked away with Iago's powerful departing words, as the walls of dishonesty finally came tumbling down: "We Know, what we Know, what we know"

Othello runs from 23 November to 21 January with press night on 30 November. "Clint Dyer (Death of England: Parts 1, 2, and 3; Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical) will direct an extraordinary new vision for William Shakespeare’s Othello in the Lyttelton theatre from 23 November 2022 until 21 January 2023. The full cast is announced today as rehearsals begin at the National Theatre.

The cast includes Giles Terera (Death of England; Face to Face) in the title role, Rosy McEwen (The Alienist) as Desdemona and Paul Hilton (The Inheritance) as Iago.

They are joined by Jack Bardoe, Joe Bolland, Rory Fleck Byrne, Kirsty J Curtis, Peter Eastland, Patrick Elue, Tanya Franks, Colm Gormley, Gareth Kennerley, Joshua Lacey, Martin Marquez, Katie Matsell, Amy Newton, Sabi Perez, Steffan Rizzi, Jay Simpson and Ryan Whittle.

With set design by Chloe Lamford, costume design by Michael Vale and lighting design by Jai Morjaria. Sound design and Composition by Pete Malkin and Benjamin Grant. Co-Composer is Sola Akingbola, Movement Director is Lucie Pankhurst. Co-Video Designers are Nina Dunn and Gino Ricardo Green. Fight Director is Kev McCurdy and Associate Set Designer is Shankho Chaudhuri. Staff director is Mumba Dowell."

Photo Credit: Myah Jeffers

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