Sunday, December 09, 2007

Othello by William Shakespeare, Donmar Warehouse, 5 Dec 2007 – Dirested by Michael Grandage

I'm not sure if this was the best production of Othello (of a half dozen or so) that I've seen; it was certainly the best Othello. In fact this was the first time that I've understood why great actors in the past have chosen to black up as Othello rather than play what seemed (according to the productions I've seen) to be the stronger role of Iago.
It has been a pet theory of mine for a while, that productions have centred on Iago because, since no white actor is allowed to black up anymore, that is where the casting people put their biggest star (who would most likely be white). Of course I could mention the dread phrase institutional racism but I'll leave that to those who believe it to be true or just want to twit liberal theatre establishments. It is certainly true that the Othello productions I’ve seen have focussed more on Iago and have been sold to the public mostly based on their Iago (in my case people like Ian McKellen, Simon Russell Beale and Antony Sher).
On the face of it this, production has its biggest star playing Iago. However in play itself Ewan McGregor’s acting was several notches below that of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Othello. You couldn’t say that Chiwetel Ejiofor stole the show because it is meant to be Othello’s show (hence the name) he outshone almost everyone else. Actually I could not quite buy McGregor as the villain; there is just a little too much un-dissembling charm about him. He certainly was not the nice guy but also he was far from the Machiavellian bigot that I’ve seen before. I didn't get the feeling that he was motivated hatred or that he was transferring of his own jealousy about his wife onto Othello. It did make me wonder if the Iago's jealousy about Emilia might be a good way of explaining his motivation. Certainly in this production I got the impression that Emilia was trying to be in love with her husband even if he had given up. Doubtless this will have been speculated about many times before by people who study Shakespeare rather than just watch it but it was the first time that I've noticed it.


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