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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
OTHELLO
at the Donmar Warehouse

REGAL TO THE TEETH
By Matt Wolf

  Chiwetel Ejiofor/Ph:Tristram Kenton

Sometimes, the title says it all. Watching Michael Grandage's fleet and furious new production of Othello, a 3-hour-15 minute staging that positively hurtles by - I was mightily struck by something that ought to be true more often. This is that rare staging of Shakespeare's trickiest of tragedies actually to put its title character at the center of the experience. Sure, it's Ewan McGregor's Shakespearean stage debut as Iago that has audiences sleeping overnight for day seats or bartering for thousands of bucks on ebay, but I defy anyone not to depart the playhouse swept away by, and celebrating, the hapless Venetian Moor of the title as played by a bearded, gloriously basso profundo Chiwetel Ejiofor (concurrently on screen in American Gangster). Miscast - and not for reasons of race - in the Grandage/Donmar revival of The Vortex several years ago, Ejiofor comes into his own with what at this late date looks like the Shakespearean performance of a busy Bardic year, though Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker's Benedick and Beatrice, of course, are yet to come.

Grandage for some time now has looked like a logical inheritor to Trevor Nunn when it comes to lucidly expressed Shakespeare, and his Othello will be of particular interest to those who remember Grandage actually playing (and very well) Roderigo in the Nunn-directed RSC Othello nearly 20 years ago, in which Willard White's sonorously moving Othello was nonetheless acted off the stage by a career-best Ian McKellen as the coolest, scariest Iago I shall probably ever see. It's nonetheless something of a surprise to find McGregor cutting such a blank, inexpressive nemesis, the play's hate-filled anti-hero fuelled not so much by motiveless malignancy - to use Coleridge's famous phrase - as by a serious set of teeth that seem to gleam in keen anticipation of the gathering entrapments of Shakespeare's coiled-tight narrative. (With a remarkably toothsome Roderigo from Edward Bennett, this may be the first Othello to send particular shivers down the spines of dentists.) His charm less evident here than it was in Grandage's West End/Donmar Guys and Dolls, McGregor will no doubt improve as the run continues and as greater command of the verse allows him to deepen a take on the part that at present seems notably scattershot.

Still, McGregor's recessive turn scarcely matters given the abundant virtues of a production that unfolds on a simple, splendidly iridescent set from Donmar regular, Christopher Oram, who this entire autumn seems hardly to have paused for breath. That defining Donmar back wall shimmers more elegantly than ever, pools of water helping define the text's split-second shifts between Venice and Cyprus. Paule Constable's fierce, glistening lighting comes to acquire its own distinctive position amid particular virtues that include the best Cassio I have ever seen from Tom Hiddleston, a lanky performer of surpassing likeability, and an Emilia from Irish actress Michelle Fairley that put me in mind of Joan Allen, which is high praise indeed. More than ever, one feels that character's galloping moral fervour even if the root cause for her relationship with Iago remains one of the defining mysteries of a play shot through with them - as Iago's cryptic eleventh-hour comment, What you know, you know, itself makes plain.

Desdemona poses her own challenges, and I very much liked Shakespeare novice (if Donmar alumna) Kelly Reilly's approach to the role not as a naive s

 


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