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Review Round-up: Does Hytner's Othello live up to hype?

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Nicholas Hytner's production of Othello starring Adrian Lester in the title role opened at the NT Olivier last night (23 April 2013).

Shakespeare's tragedy tells the story of newly married Othello and Desdemona (played by Olivia Vinall) and the villainous Iago (Rory Kinnear). With designs from Vicki Mortimer, the cast also includes Jonathan Baily, Lyndsey Marshal and Tom Robertson.

Othello continues in rep until 18 August 2013.

Maxwell Cooter

...Nicholas Hytner's modern-dress production brings that banality to life… Here are two fine central performances… Rory Kinnear's Iago has mastered the art of saying much by not saying much, with silences speaking volumes… This Iago is no stereotypical pantomime villain but a man who has no moral compass whatsoever… 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… 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.

Charles Spencer

...It’s a gripping production of a tragedy that is also an intensely painful psychological thriller, and though the production lasts more than three hours, it never loosens its dramatic hold…. This Othello has all the hallmarks of Hytner at his best – it’s witty, agile, lucid and deeply felt… and the double-act between Lester’s Moor and Rory Kinnear’s Iago proves exceptional… Kinnear’s Iago initially seems like the salt of the earth, but you soon sense a resentment that lurches into paranoia. Lester rises magnificently to the challenge of the great poetry of the final act, conjuring a verbal symphony of loss, pain, guilt and grief.

Olivia Vinall & Rory Kinnear

Paul Taylor

...Hytner's brilliantly acted (both leads are stunning), acutely penetrating and deeply disturbing account of the play… Lester gives us a figure of such quietly natural authority and unforced charisma… Kinnear's Iago is a balding, faintly Cockney bar-room-bigot type, masquerading as a blokey you-get-what-it-says-on-the-tin merchant… Kinnear's performance may be wonderfully low-key, but you can sense how Iago's revealed “motives” are just a set of disguises… The wonder of Lester's performance is that it captures all the discordant voices – the harrowing inconsolable sobs of the man who knows he has destroyed, in Desdemona, his life's meaning… The production is an un-operatically terrifying take on the play and no easy debunking exercise. It stands as a properly provocative vindication of a decade of modernised Shakespeare at Hytner's National Theatre.

Michael Billington

...Rory Kinnear here gives a stunning study of a sociopath whose destructive tendencies have hitherto been held in check only by soldierly discipline. It's a performance full of revealing moments… Lester has all the qualities you look for in Othello: charisma, presence, a voice. He is superb in the senate scene… It is a high-class production… Everything about the production is clear, clever and comprehensible. But, partly because it denies Othello something of his musical grandeur and makes Iago's diseased mind the main event, I'd say it scores a successful victory on points without delivering the final, knockout blow.

Libby Purves
The Times

...The 25-year-old Olivia Vinall shines as Desdemona. She is truthful, blithe and touching… Lester’s Othello has all the dignified vulnerability one could wish... Over at his laptop, Kinnear’s watchful Iago twitches with the energy of envious hatred. Both men are superb; emotional powerhouses, lyrically confident. But what makes this production so fine are the myriad smaller perfections… Moments shine: Desdemona flies to Othello, almost ripping his flak jacket off, Jonathan Bailey writhes in Cassio’s disgraced misery, the Willow song echoes, broken, off the grey concrete. Emilia is all jokey, soldierly pragmatism about sex and men, but erupts brilliantly in a final, honest fury at the death of innocence. Your breath stops. Pitiful, wondrous pitiful.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

Though it lasts well over three hours, Sir Nicholas Hytner’s inventive Othello zips along… Adrian Lester’s powerfully-built… a convincing commander, even if his petting of Desdemona in front of the men is overdone… A slimmed-down Rory Kinnear may convince us that Iago is a crafty and cold-hearted man. But is he evil? If that intense vileness is elusive it may be because… the extremity of Iago’s nastiness demands a little more caricature – a little more brooding, jaw-clenching villainy – if our minds are to compute it… That is the sole, slight flaw in an otherwise fine performance from Mr Kinnear who cements his reputation as one of our stage’s stars.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

Adrian Lester is a charismatic, dignified Othello. When jealousy grips him he seethes with the sort of fury that causes him to flip a table with a single flick of his wrist. But he brings a delicate grace to the role, and the crispness of his verse-speaking is admirable – a reminder, as if we needed one, of his great quality as a Shakespearean actor. Rory Kinnear is mesmerising as Iago, the "honest" officer who is in fact Othello's nemesis... In Nicholas Hytner's production, which is set in the present, the scenes between the leads always fizz... What’s missing is grandeur - a sense of real nobility and exoticism. The modern setting reveals the play’s paranoid mood and uncomfortable humour but muffles the tragedy a little.


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