OTHELLO
Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Opened 20 September, 2011
****
Daniel Evans’ production explodes on to the stage in a high-speed, high-volume exchange. Within ten seconds, three impressions are conveyed in rapid succession: (i) it has, quite definitively, started; (ii) the cast are in period costume, codpieces and all; and (iii) Dominic West is using his native Yorkshire accent as Iago. This is only partly a matter of playing to the Sheffield audience. It also accentuates the character’s ostensible bluntness: it is not an accent that suggests dissimulation, and so makes it more plausible for other folk to refer to him time and again as “honest Iago” without spotting his stratagems for both Othello’s and Cassio’s downfall.. It is also an approach that leads to many more laughs – lines simply sound funnier – yet although this does diminish Iago’s malignity, it does not cripple that aspect of the play.

Evans presents a straightforward, uncontroversial take on the play, since he knows that we are not there to see a high-concept interpretation, but to see the reunion of West and Clarke Peters, alias Jimmy McNulty and Lester Freamon from HBO’s series The Wire. As Othello, Peters overlays his native New Jersey accent with a slight West African lilt, with a result reminiscent of Kofi Annan. He is not one of the most electrifying Moors, but is comfortably far up the league table. Most of his crucial transformation takes place offstage between the two scenes in which Iago drips the poison of jealousy into his ear, so that “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore!” comes as another explosion. Lily James’ Desdemona is clearly virtuous without being ethereal, and Alexandra Gilbreath’s ability to get full mileage out of her lines is well suited to the role of Emilia.

Little of the script has been cut; in fact, for the first time since I cannot remember when, we even get to hear Lodovico’s now-unfortunate line on Othello’s suicide, “O, bloody period!” (in the sense of a violent full-stop to the chain of tragedy). There are some weaker links in the minor casting, but all in all this forms an instructive contrast with Trevor Nunn’s current West End Tempest: Evans proves that a conventional production need not be reverential to the point of inertia.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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