Othello, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
Thursday 22 September 2011
Daniel Evans has pulled off a genuine casting coup for his production of Othello – a staging that forms the centrepiece of the Crucible's 40th birthday celebrations. And he's done so without the least suspicion of gimmickry.
It may be quite a schlep from the mean streets of Baltimore, where they played fellow detectives on the cult TV series The Wire. But both Clarke Peters and Dominic West are seasoned stage performers and seem to punch at the same weight, theatrically speaking.
The production unfolds fluently on the thrust stage which has become an octagonal, geometrically tiled piazza, with the characters emerging through the double doors of a monumental city wall. At 59, Peters has the right stature and seniority for Othello, whose age is another of the insecurities that, along with colour and culture, Iago can play upon. Peters's performance exudes gravitas, largeness of soul and a sadness that suggests his deluded sense of betrayal arises less from a quickness to jealousy than from a deep, sorrowful pessimism about his strictly conditional acceptance in Venetian society. Putting an African accent on Othello's lines, the actor is, however, too inclined to rush the verse and muffle its pulse.
West breaks the recent mould of anally repressed NCO martinets with an ebullient, strapping brute of an Iago whom you could imagine leading the charge into battle. With his forthright approach and strong Sheffield tones, he's like a deadpan whirlwind parody of the plain-speaking Yorkshireman. The actor's achievement is to marry this manner to the chillingly manipulative power we saw in his recent brilliant portrayal of Fred West in the TV play Appropriate Adult. There are moments here that freeze the soul, as when he advises Othello not to poison Desdemona but to strangle her in her wedding sheets, as though it were just a helpful piece of advice about an impersonal problem of logistics.
Lily James is a piercingly young and beautiful heroine who retains, throughout her ordeal, traces of the spark and mettle that led her to defy convention in the first place. She is beautifully partnered by Alexandra Gilbreath, whose Emilia has clearly been starved of every kind of affection in her marriage to Iago.
To 15 October (0114 249 6000)
A version of this review appeared in some editions of yesterday's paper
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