We meet Iago, the real star of Othello, standing outside what looks like a Wetherspoon’s pub, sipping a pint of bitter as he sows his malicious seeds to a wet-behind-the-ears Roderigo. Rory Kinnear’s Iago is weedy, balding, even unassuming, yet he simmers with a quiet malevolence.
With a total run time of over three hours, the first act of director Nicholas Hytner’s production is glacially slow. Adrian Lester in particular takes his sweet time getting into the swing of things in the title role. He’s a powerful Othello, physically intimidating in his tight-fitting military fatigues, but he occasionally appears lost, especially when discussing his fairytale romance with Desdemona.
The second half, though, is thrilling. The set morphs into a modern-day military base that looks like it could be in Iraq or Afghanistan. Lester does the rage element of Othello brilliantly. People are thrown against walls. Tables are upended. He’s a force of nature and you can well believe him smothering the life out of poor old Desdemona.
It is Kinnear, though, who commands the stage. He makes Iago’s far-fetched scheme seem plausible: even I believed his aspersions on the honour of the good lady. During the final act, his appearance in Chanel 4’s Black Mirror sprung to mind. In that show his character was forced to “make love” to a pig on live TV; that his Iago is even more grotesque is testament to the strength of his performance.
First published in City A.M.