Othello (Adrian Lester) and Iago (Rory Kinnear) in the National Theatre's re-imagining of Shakespeare's tragedy

National Theatre reworking of ‘Othello’ to be broadcast in SA cinemas

Across the UK, ‘Othello’ will hit cinemas for one night only on 26 September as part of the NTLive broadcast. Featuring Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lambert in the role of Othello and his nemesis ensign Iago, the play is as gripping, funny and fraught as any blockbuster you could watch instead.

Othello (Adrian Lester) and Iago (Rory Kinnear) in the National Theatre's re-imagining of Shakespeare's tragedy

Othello (Adrian Lester) and Iago (Rory Kinnear) in the National Theatre's re-imagining of Shakespeare's tragedy
NICHOLAS Hytner, director of London’s visionary National Theatre, has taken Shakespeare’s Othello and made it about squaddies, and in doing so shaken all the dust out of the debate so often encountered in lessons at college or school, most commonly: is this a play about racism?

Hytner’s version dismisses that question with a dour roll of the eyes. This is a play about the army in multicultural Britain, where the most common costume is military fatigues, and the most common affliction is fatigue of the domestic kind. It is a play about inertia and the destruction that it so often creates; about a structured, violent environment turned on itself, with nothing to do except drink, and no one to fight except each other.

You may have met Rory Kinnear’s Iago outside a Wetherspoon’s, wanting to level with you about something you never really wanted to be levelled with about, but unable to lose the attention of this self-invented seer. Kinnear’s balding anti-hero takes his venom from workplace politics as so many people do, but uses cunning fitting for a military strategist to take revenge on Othello, who overlooked him for a higher position.

Othello (Adrian Lester) could have been inspired by Barack Obama, a statesman to Iago’s bloke: dignified, jovial, respectful, and despite the bad things he does, his story of ascent from adversity is one that wins him an admiring audience, particularly his tediously charming wife Desdemona (Olivia Vinall).

Desdemona is the outsider in this performance, rather than Othello, traditionally the only black actor in a white cast; but it is his wife who is marked out by her appearance, dressed in the stylish slouch of suburbia, while the rest of the cast are in camouflage.  It is she who brings instability (“when I love thee not, chaos is come again”) with her guileless non-flirtation with Cassio (Jonathon Bailey) and her inability to understand the rules that govern the behaviour of the soldiers around her. Emilia (Lyndsey Marshal), her warden and defender, is a more intriguing character, an abused wife at once trying to appease her nihilist husband, Iago, and repulsed by him.

The set is in part what makes this performance remarkable: the military base in occupied Cyprus becomes a Petri dish for volatile relationships to breed. Inside the breeze-blocked compound there is no privacy:  the men’s toilets become a setting for eavesdropping and treachery, and even the bedroom is lit by strip lights.

Hytner’s play is about England and the English, taking sceptical pot-shots at our sceptred isle: Roderigo (Tom Robertson), the dim toff who Iago convinces to come to Cyprus to woo Desdemona could have been a member of Prince Harry’s Boujis crowd; Desdemona’s father, a wax-jacketed old racist, might have marched against the fox hunting ban.

The originality of this play and the standing ovations it received from the audience for a run that sold out fast deserves to be seen by a wider audience who might otherwise be put off by a distrust of Shakespeare and the somewhat operatic performances that have tarnished his reputation as an entertainer.

Othello is being broadcast in cinemas around the world in local time zones on 26 September. Don’t miss it: this is truly inspired,  unusual as much for taking an environment and applying Shakespeare to it, rather than taking Shakespeare and applying it to the environment, as for its stellar cast who possess their roles so convincingly that your attention will never leave the screen.

Othello is at the National Theatre, Southbank Centre, until 5 October.

It will be in selected cinemas in South Africa in October, from Sat. 19 (19.30), Sun 20 (14.30), Weds 23 & Thurs 24 (19.30) 

Cinema Nouveau, Rosebank, Johannesburg
Cinema Nouveau, Brooklyn, Pretoria
Cinema Nouveau, Gateway, Durban
Cinema Nouveau, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
Ster Kinekor Blueroute, Cape Town