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Othello review: More horribly heartbreaking than ever

Clint Dyer’s transfixing production, the first by a Black director at the National Theatre, has a quality that suggests it will quickly become a classic

Jessie Thompson
Thursday 01 December 2022 13:37 GMT
Giles Terera (Othello) and Paul Hilton (Iago) in ‘Othello’ at the National Theatre
Giles Terera (Othello) and Paul Hilton (Iago) in ‘Othello’ at the National Theatre (Myah Jeffers)

As I left Othello at the National Theatre, I overheard someone say to their friend, “Tragedies, man… everyone dies.” But even if we knew how this was going to go, Clint Dyer’s production – the first by a Black director at this theatre – creates a sense of the unexpected. Confident, intelligent and frightening, it heavily suggests we’ll see something different, right from its gauntlet-wielding first tableau. Old posters of the play are projected onto the back wall. A man quietly cleans the stage. A clock ticks through the centuries, until we land back in 2022. History is breathing down our neck.

Foreboding creeps into the action from the very start, with a pulsing soundtrack and a mob atmosphere. Othello (Giles Terera) arrives onto Chloe Lamford’s brutalist amphitheatre-like set like a champion boxer. He’s just married Desdemona, with whom he is boyishly, proudly besotted, but he’s surrounded by a gang of creepy fascist-style blackshirts, and people won’t shake his hand. The lurking mood of trouble makes things febrile, edgy – as though it could all tip into violence at any moment, and he could be mauled in front of the crowd.

It’s pointedly noticeable that Othello is the only Black person on the stage, and Terera sensitively plays him as a man cornered, constantly having to justify his own existence. “She loved me for the dangers I had passed,” he says of Desdemona, and those dangers now feel very potent. Rosy McEwen’s Desdemona is naturalistic and modern, a strong, sensible partner prepared to face down those dangers alongside him. When someone tells Othello to “use Desdemona well”, her face curls into disdain.

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