The RSC’s Othello
There has been much talk and speculation about the Lenny Henry Othello at the Leeds Playhouse, so much so that the current touring production from the Royal Shakespeare Company has tended to get a little lost.
Nevertheless we found ourselves in Newcastle yesterday and made our way over to Northern Stage to see this play, which has never really offered comfortable viewing.
It deals with racism, jealousy, domestic violence and revenge, and often leaves one with a feeling of rage and some incomprehension at the heartlessness and waste of human life which, for a few brief hours, becomes our world.
But this production, for various reasons, did not work for me. Kathryn Hunter, the director, decided to introduce song and dance routines into the action, and although these were fine in themselves, they detracted from, rather than added to the ongoing narrative of the play. A blacked-up Minstrel singing Are You Lonely Tonight may well be in bad taste, but the real sin is in placing it at the centre of a tragedy which works perfectly well without additional gimmicks.
Michael Gould as Iago more or less gets away with his humourless portrayal of a dullard who, miraculously, seems to be an apt student of human nature.
But Patrice Naiambana’s characterization of Othello only works in flashes. He has little trouble convincing us of his love for Desdemona, or of his ability to lead his men, or, indeed, of his great nobility. But he falls for Iago’s trickery far too easily, and is then completely unreasonable in his jealous rages, allowing himself to be reduced to the state of a slighted child. To a large extent the play depends on the audience being able to empathise and have sympathy with Othello, but well before the end we were ceasing to care about his predicament.
Natalia Tena was a delightful Desdemona. And Marcello Magni as Roderigo lit up the stage whenever he was on it.
The set by Liz Cooke was ambitious and appeared challenging, for the cast, in its many transformations. But it was good to watch and usually provided convincing and adequate spaces for the action of the play.