Race is rarely out of the news as an issue challenging our society, so it is no surprise it is also frequently in our theatres, writes Christopher Walker.
The National Theatre’s bold new production of Othello certainly brings out everything Shakespeare had to say on the subject.
The direction can at times be heavy-handed, but overall it is a highly successful take on this established classic.
This is especially so given the very two strong performances at its core.
Othello, a black general in the Venetian army, is played with incredible warmth and passion by Giles Terera.
Giles trained at the Mountview Academy in Peckham and went on to star in Hamilton.
He is perfect for this role, and he has the build and stature to carry off the part.
This contrasts well with his nemesis, Iago, played by the excellent Paul Hilton of Inheritance fame.
His slight build and gawky features make his deception of the ‘Venetian lion’ all the more shocking.
As he engineers Othello’s downfall, there are gasps from some in the audience at just how big his lies are.
Michael Vale’s costumes put everyone in the kind of black uniforms worn by the fascist Blackshirts in 1930s London.
Paul Hilton’s Iago also bears a passing resemblance to Oswald Mosley.
The set design by Chloe Lamford is crisp, sharp and modern with good use of video projections.
A few flashing lights deserve a trigger warning. No wonder Othello has an epileptic fit at one point.
Trigger warnings there are about the racist language, all of which is in the original text.
More gasps from the audience, but then that’s the point. Clint Dyer’s direction has its successful moments.
The use of a Greek style chorus as background to the mental anguish of Iago and Othello, and the portrayal of Emilia as Iago’s battered wife.
Thanks also to a first class performance by Tanya Franks.
Other elements are more heavy-handed. Emilia’s plaster cast on a broken arm, the lash marks on Othello’s back, and the noose carried by a lynch mob at the start of the play.
These all dial up the racial element to full volume. But then again – they work.
This felt a very modern and very shocking play. Worth catching.
Picture: Giles Terera (Othello) in Othello at the National Theatre. Image credit- Myah Jeffers
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