The tragedy of Othello is, at heart, a domestic tragedy. For all the trappings of state and the exalted positions of the protoganists, it's the mundane story of people brought low by the jealousies that lie in all of us. Nicholas Hytner's modern-dress production brings that banality to life.
The action takes place in the most prosaic of settings: a man's toilet, where Othello spies on Cassio and Iago, a mess room and a bleak office. Desdemona dies, not in a chamber befitting the wife of a general, but in a cheaply furnished, harshly-lit bedroom.
One of the key aspects of Othello is that he is a general, steeped in militarism, a man who knows little outside the army. It's perhaps the artificial nature of camp life. Hytner's production captures the tedium of army life, the testosterone-driven bantering and heavy drinking.
The central focus of any Othello is going to be the pivotal relationship between Othello and Iago. Here are two fine central performances: Adrian Lester's Othello is quick to believe the worst of Desdemona and takes little persuading. It's a portrait of a man driven to physical torment by his suspicions, scarcely able to breathe as he contemplates Desdemona's supposed infidelity.
Rory Kinnear's Iago has mastered the art of saying much by not saying much, with silences speaking volumes. His mumbled "I like that not," is scarcely audible, yet Othello picks up on it, as if he's willing to believe it. This Iago is no stereotypical pantomime villain but a man who has no moral compass whatsoever.
By the end, Lester's Othello is almost physically wrecked by the destruction of his marriage, frantically scrutinising the sheets for signs of Desdemona's guilt.
Olivia Vinall & Adrian Lester
Olivia Vinall's Desdemona steps into this setting with a touching naivity. Quick to comfort Cassio, she provides easy evidence to Othello of her infidelity and her light flirtatiousness contrasts with the heavy regime of army life.
There are some excellent supporting performances, notably from William Chubb's Brabantio, a spiteful, patrician racist; Lyndsey Marshal's sympathetic Emilia; and Jonathan Bailey's smoothly ambitious Cassio. Plaudits too for Vicki Mortimer's set which allows the action to switch easily from washroom to bedroom.
Othello marks ten years of Hytner at the helm of the National; it's an impressive adornment to an impressive reign, and is certain to become one of his must-see productions.