Like the differences of colour and culture, the age gap between Othello and Desdemona is vital, both to our sense of the bravery and beauty of their love and to the deep insecurities in the hero on which Iago mercilessly plays. But the flagrantly fit Harewood and the excellent Claire Skinner look about as far apart in age as Romeo and Juliet. The painfulness of Othello's need to cling to an image of himself is consequently never as acute. It doesn't help that Harewood has a tendency to chop up the verse into snatched units, even in passages where the music and the meaning demand a tranced inexorability.
With Cyprus turned into a colonial outpost of the 1920s, all cane furniture and scratchy 78s, this studio-sized production is staged with a lovely economy, the audience sitting round three sides of a tiled and pillared courtyard that serves for both outdoor and indoor scenes. It rains a lot, making the atmosphere even more stifling among this displaced group of people thrown in on themselves in a foreign barracks.
A squat psychotic toad in a military uniform, Beale's Iago exploits the situation with diabolic flair. Resembling, at times, a cross between Gertrude Stein and Captain Pugwash, he's not a man you'd suspect of having a great social life and clearly the kind of palliness that has gained him a false reputation for honesty comes about as naturally to him as kissing babies would. When Othello slaps him playfully on the chest at the start, you notice there's an unnerving second's pause before he can overcome his private distaste and allow a ghastly fake smile to break over his features. Even as the roaring ringleader of the drinking game that disastrously inebriates Colin Tierney's complex Cassio, this Iago is, to a creepy, driven degree, Thersites pretending to be one of the boys.
When Ian McKellen played Iago for Trevor Nunn, he emphasised the fact that, for this villain, the love between Desdemona and Othello is a riling mystery, only to be coped with through annihilation.The source of this Iago's evil is more of an enigma that it was with McKellen. Here, he's terrifying because he thinks he has nothing to learn.
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