Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies


Academic journal article Early Modern Literary Studies


Article excerpt

Othello, presented by the Royal National Theatre at the Olivier Theatre, London, July 4, 2013

Directed by Nicholas Hytner; Designed by Vicki Mortimer; Lighting Design by Jon Clark; Music by Nick Powell; Sound Designer by Gareth Fry; Company Voice Work Jeannette Nelson. With Tom Robertson (Roderigo), Rory Kinnear (Iago), William Chubb (Brabantio), Adrian Lester (Othello), Jonathan Bailey (Cassio), Robert Demeger (Duke of Venice), Nick Sampson (Lodovico), Olivia Vinall (Desdemona), Chook Sibtain (Montano), Lyndsey Marshal (Emilia), Rokhsaneh Ghawam-Shahidi (Bianca), and Jonathan Dryden Taylor (Gratiano).

This was not the first production of Othello to stress the environment of the military camp, but in doing so, director Nicholas Hytner reminded us of themes important both in the 1600s and today: both Othello and Coriolanus concern the consequences of a warrior forced to live during peacetime and Hytner brought this idea up to date by recreating a modern army encamped in the Middle East (the men wore full battle gear when they arrived in Cyprus, complete with M-16s). This setting pointed up the tragedies that can occur when men who are trained to kill then have to readjust to a civilian world. Othello's actions became clearer in light of today's all-too-pervasive news items about posttraumatic stress disorder, the rise of suicide in the ranks, and the murders of innocent non-combatants.

The Olivier Theatre was used to its full capabilities. With a series of platforms and wagons, the stagehands were able to quickly change the settings from the outside of a townhouse to a conference room to the various parts of the military base in Cyprus. The latter included Othello's simple but awful quarters with a standing closet in the corner, fluorescent lighting, and a double bed on a wooden frame upon which finally three bodies would eventually be piled. The music for the scene transitions was a pulsing hip-hop beat, which was entirely in keeping with this driving, exciting interpretation by Hytner. Iago's persuasion began in the company office as he finished his reports on a laptop. It continued in the latrine, with Othello hiding in a stall, while, next to the sinks, Iago talked to Cassio about Bianca.

That Iago would 'spin his web' in such familiar settings made the story much more easy to believe as it unfolded. His ability to manipulate his general also seemed more plausible because Othello and Iago had obviously seen combat together-possibly saved each other's lives if they, as suggested, were both serving in the same unit. Why should he not have trusted such a man?

The decision to stress Othello's military bearing was of paramount importance to the production's interpretation. Lester was often to be found in an official at-ease position, as if it was impossible for him to ignore his training. Lester had obviously put on some muscle for the role, and one could easily imagine him fighting hand-to-hand in the desert. He also went by the book: when he punished Cassio for being drunk and disorderly, he was making an example of him, and was unlikely to reinstate him, despite Desdemona's protests. …

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