Monday, February 04, 2008

"Othello" - February 2008

From the instant the cast was revealed for this production at London's Donmar Warehouse we knew we would be joining the scramble for tickets in its small theatre. We've enjoyed Chiwetel Ejiofor's film work, and despite not always being a fan of Ewan McGregor's performances I felt he would be excellent as Iago. But after all the hype about ticket prices on e-bay, could the production live up to our expectations?

Ejiofor and McGregor certainly did. Ejiofor makes his Othello clearly a cultural outsider but gives him the charisma to be believable as the respected war hero. As his trust in Desdemona is destroyed the pain and turmoil screams out with every expression and movement.

McGregor's Iago is charming and it's easy to see how this man could be capable of pulling off his grand manipulations. There isn't a moment when you are left thinking "he'd never get away with that" and even at the play's tragic end, I really wouldn't have minded Iago slipping away with a triumphant smirk.

I'm afraid Kelly Reilly's Desdemona didn't work for me. I simply couldn't reconcile the almost fluffy portrayal with a character who has the strength to defy her father and marry Othello, or even any sign of a burning passion that has driven her to it. Only in her scenes of bewilderment as she realises her likely fate does the character come to life.

But Tom Hiddleston's Cassio makes up for any failings in Desdemona. It's a performance equal of Ejiofor and McGregor's, and manages to bring the character to the forefront rather than the simple plot device I tend to consider him.

The strong supporting cast all work well, and in the Donmar's small space even manage to pop up in the audience now and again. The sword play is impressive - and for once I was glad we were in the front row of the circle rather than the stalls.

There's no denying this is an excellent production of "Othello" with two outstanding lead performances but I can't deny that there was something lacking. 'Excellent', 'Powerful', 'Striking'. Yes. 'Brilliant', 'Sparkling', 'Exciting'? Not quite. It's just a little too safe for my taste. Perhaps Director Michael Grandage wanted to put this down as a marker of a classic "Othello" and if so he and his cast have largely succeeded, but I like productions of Shakespeare to bring me something new and to leave me with something to think about. Leaving the Donmar my thoughts were all about the performances - not the play. And I'm not sure that's really how it should be.

"Othello" runs until 23rd Feb. Run sold out with the exception of 10 Day tickets and a number of Standing tickets released daily.

1 Heckle

Interval Drinks said...

I agree with much of what you've said here. Chiwetel Ejiofor was quite amazing and Ewan MacGregor was treated far too harshily by some of the critics. Kelly Reilly's Desdomona was the weak link though I thought she redeemed herself in the scenes leading up to her characters death.