On Racism and Jealousy

A timeless production of Othello in London cuts right to the heart of the human condition.

Actors Rory Kinnear (Iago) and Adrian Lester (Othello) in Othello (National Theatre)
Actors Rory Kinnear (Iago) and Adrian Lester (Othello) in Othello (National Theatre)

The theatrical master class given here by Lester is unnerving in its brilliance and nuanced intensity. Also the star of Hytner’s groundbreaking Henry V in 2003, in which he played the eponymous English king in an iconic case of colorblind casting, Lester is Britain’s modern-day Aldridge. Lester’s portrayal of Othello’s mental disintegration, his absolute certainty that he has been cuckolded and his subsequent histrionic downfall are sublime if not harrowing to behold.

As the Shakespearean scholar A.C. Bradley famously observed, “Evil has nowhere else been portrayed with such mastery as in the character of Iago.” How right he was. Rory Kinnear is astonishingly accomplished as the quintessence of depravity, a man whose insatiable wickedness knows no equal.

Iago’s malign genius as a character lies in that he is a true master of verbal dissimulation. The power of language as a means of deception is readily apparent in this astute and sensitive production, as is the fact that Othello is incredibly susceptible to linguistic manipulation. Kinnear’s chillingly nefarious soliloquies, superbly delivered in a chavvy Cockney accent, beautifully evoke his unimaginable duplicity beneath a veneer of South London wide-boy bonhomie.

With its stark, prefabricated military set connoting with great effect the brutal pragmatism of war, this violent, bloody tragedy is visually sleek, sparse and spectacular.

A peerless analyst of the human heart and the most astute observer of the wellsprings of human motivation, Shakespeare is thankfully all of our birthrights. We are all Shakespeare’s children — black, white and brown. Suffice to say, with such dazzlingly precocious thespian talent on display as that of Lester and Kinnear, I’d venture that this production of Othello is alone more than worth a trip across the pond.

Othello, with Adrian Lester, is playing at the National Theatre until Oct. 5. For more information, click here. Othello will be broadcast to cinemas worldwide as part of National Theatre Live on Sept. 26.

Lindsay Johns is a London-based writer and broadcaster. He currently blogs on current affairs and culture for the Daily Mail online.