NT Olivier, London

Kate Bassett on Othello: Defeated by the green-eyed monster


Jealousy is the enemy in an impeccably cast tragedy. And a Swedish one-man-show is the West End's new best friend

Where's a good doctor when you need one? Iago implies that he has, personally, administered some physic. His practice is to kill, not cure, though. In Nicholas Hytner's keenly awaited NT staging of Othello, Adrian Lester as the eponymous army commander has just slumped unconscious in the outpost that he is meant to be defending. The newlywed's mind has been so poisoned by jealousy – succumbing to his ensign's insinuations – that he has suffered a seizure. Rory Kinnear's gruff, shorn-headed Iago duly sneers, "Work on, my medicine," as he boots his superior's prostrate body.

With gun-toting troops in desert camouflage gear – in strip-lit barracks behind concrete barricades – this production is peppered with ferocious violence. Increasingly explosive, Lester punches a hole in a wall and makes Olivia Vinall's Desdemona cower. Barely more than a willowy teenager, she has been innocently tactile, flinging her arms around him and his friend, Lieutenant Cassio, never supposing this might be viewed as unchaste.

The present-day setting proves a close fit with relatively few textual cuts (much like the Hytner/Lester Henry V of 10 years ago). Here, the white characters' surfacing racism seems all too possible, even with multiculturalism visibly extending from the lowest to the top rank. In the cabinet boardroom, in Act I, Lester's Othello is smart-suited, with statesmanlike dignity, suppressing his anger at the bigotry of the grandee Brabantio – Desdemona's bitterly upset father.

William Chubb is outstanding in that role. So is Jonathan Bailey as a naive, public school Cassio, so shocked at being cashiered that he's almost hyperventilating. The production will, I think, mature in time, but newcomer Vinall is a name to watch, and Lyndsey Marshal, playing Iago's wife as a flak-taking squaddie, comes into her own in the last act, screaming blue murder.

Maybe Lester's Othello could reveal more deep-seated insecurities. Nonetheless, he's touchingly ardent at first, and tragically confused by the close, suffocating Desdemona on their bed in what looks like a passionate clinch. As for Kinnear, I've seen more lasciviously twisted Iagos. But his deceptive mateyness is horribly funny, his fresh line-readings are brilliant, and his soliloquies riveting – exposing a choked-up, raging paranoia about his own marriage.

Next we become the confidants of the morbid GP in Doktor Glas (Wyndham's, London *****). This is weird and, as it turns out, thrillingly world-class fare for London's theatreland. It sounds like commercial suicide: a 90-minute monologue, in Swedish, with surtitles, that makes passing reference to Schopenhauer and is based on a 1905 novel by Hjalmar Söderberg, little known this side of the North Sea.

The box-office draw is Krister Henriksson – Wallander in the Scandanavian TV series of that name. But this is no star-casting gimmick. The whole production is mesmerising, laced with dark laughter and disturbing moral ambiguities, suggesting designer-director Peder Bjurman as the new Ingmar Bergman.

Henriksson's Glas is a shadowy figure, caught in pale shafts of light that slant into his surgery, a chamber that hovers between Strindberg's era and the 1960s. A clock without hands (a very Bergmanesque image) stares from a wall which phosphoresces as Glas tells his tale of warped love and lethal pills – obsessing over two patients, an odious pastor and his bewitching wife who needs saving.

The voice is almost a whisper: but is it soothing or sinister? Glas's role-swapping is unsettling as well. He turns into the woman of his dreams simply by stroking his lapel as if it's a décolletage, then just as suddenly he morphs into the hunchbacked husband he reviles.

If there's more where this came from, can we import it please, without delay?

Last but not least, the Donmar's artistic director Josie Rourke has revived The Weir (****). Conor McPherson's masterpiece, from 1997, is set in a rural Irish pub where a handful of lonely souls gather, telling spooky stories that become searingly personal, opening old wounds but also generating tentative, communal sympathy.

It would be hard to surpass Ian Rickson's perfectly paced and unforgettable premiere, yet Rourke's production left me weeping almost as uncontrollably as the first time round. Her ensemble is wonderfully humorous and heartbreaking. It includes Brian Cox as the rueful, ageing bachelor Jack, Ardal O'Hanlon as the chronically shy, rustic Jim, and Peter McDonald as the barman biding his time but trying to make the nervous newcomer, Dervla Kirwan's Valerie, feel at home. Strongly recommended.

What a corking week.

'Othello' (020-7452 3000) booking to 18 Aug; 'Doktor Glas' (0844 482 5120) to 11 May; 'The Weir' (0844 871 7624) to 8 Jun

Critic's Choice

The Bard's delightful verse epic Venus and Adonis is fleetingly back at Shakespeare's Globe in London (Mon to Sat), performed by Cape Town's singing, dancing Isango Ensemble, who were a highlight of last year's Cultural Olympiad. Brighton's Fringe Festival 2013 (Sat to 2 Jun) gets rolling with top names including NoFit State Circus, La Clique and buckets more.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk