Good morning to you all! To all those who survived 'Othello', 'The National Theatre', and the night, what a night it turned out to be! Congratulations to all! To mourn a mischief that is past and gone is the next way to draw new mischief on. What cannot be preserved when fortune takes, patience her injury a mock'ry makes. The robbed that smiles steals something from the thief, he robs himself that spends a bootless grief.
Writing in the FT, Ian Shuttleworth reports that Nicholas Hytner’s exceptionally strong and coherent production sets Shakespeare’s tragedy in today’s Middle East. The bulk of the action of Othello takes place in Cyprus, but the wall maps in Nicholas Hytner’s production are of the Middle East and occasionally in the background can be heard the amplified call of the muezzin. This is more than simple modishness, though: Hytner has taken the contemporaneity of his revival so seriously that he consulted a military adviser, Major-General Jonathan Shaw. Vicki Mortimer’s design unfolds several distinct environments into/out of an entirely convincing prefabricated military compound. Even Desdemona’s maid Emilia is a squaddie (squadette?), but the war with the Ottomans takes second place to the contention for Othello’s soul and destiny.
The focus of public attention for this production is the two leads. Adrian Lester’s Othello is smoothly orotund, never given to declamation however much more polished his speech may be than that of those around him. In the pivotal central phase with Iago, he first breaks rhythm when the latter speaks the dread j-word: jealousy. What this gradually unlocks in Othello is not so much anger (although he has his moments of fury) as a savage bitterness, not least bitterness at himself and his supposed former delusion (it is, of course, this supposition that is the real delusion). Enough of Shakespeare, Neil McGowan!
'The Times' leads this Friday morning with some editorial comment on being inch perfect. Thumbing its nose at the laws of physics, an inch is not always just an inch. An inch more on the waist is easier to carry than an extra inch on your ears. An inch on her stilettos was the making of Marilyn Monroe. Dorothy Parker, when she shared a room at 'The New Yorker with her fellow wit Robert Benchley, said that they “had an office so tiny that an inch smaller and it would have been adultery”. Now we learn that an inch — barely the height of a respectable radish — is all that stands between heaven and hell.
I suppose that if I invite my Muslim friends down the pub this weekend, Sydney Grew, it potentially raises more issues than agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh or other friends. For a start, Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol. Yet roughly one in four Westerners abstain anyway, so it is no big deal. They can always order a coke, or even a cup of coffee or tea, particularly if the weather turns cold again! Yet in my experience, my Muslim friends are least likely to come! I have to meet them at a coffee shop instead! Yet I suspect that it is ultimately worth the effort, Neil McGowan! I propose some toast: to Allah, God and Yahweh! Three cheers from kleines c, Chelsea and the legendary bb (Friday morning breakfast coffee)!
Post by neilmcgowan on Apr 26, 2013 7:14:45 GMT -5
The bulk of the action of Othello takes place in Cyprus,
As indeed Mr Shakespeare intended
I am delighted to hear that Nick Hytner's production has been so well received. It's very strongly cast, of course - but Hytner has that rigorous logic in his emotional intelligence that always makes a riveting evening.
"What would Shakespeare have thought of this production; that is the question . . . "
I don't know, nor can I, as William Shakespeare is not around to see this particular production. I suspect that he would have been surprised that his plays were still being performed four hundred years after his death! I suspect that he would have been fascinated by Othello's contemporary setting in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Shakespeare's dissection of jealousy and the human condition is so acute in this particular play, that I would hazard a guess that he would have loved it!
Enormous simplifications are probably necessary to carry a deeper truth about ourselves, Gerard. This is, after all, what happens when history is written down. Many, if not most, of the true facts are discarded. Much the same may be said for our discussions here in 'The Third'. We can but try. Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised, or a little mistaken.
Due to unprecedented demand from around the world, everyone reading 'The Third' is cordially invited to join us for Sunday morning brunch. If you cannot make it in person today, do not worry! We shall do it all again just for you! I propose some toast: to Shakespeare, Othello and the National Theatre! Three cheers from kleines c, Chelsea and the legendary bb (Sunday morning breakfast coffee)!
Speaking at London's National Theatre on Monday, Peter Brook joked that he moved to France 40 years ago to avoid running either the National or the Royal Shakespeare Company. He then discussed the process of workshop and rehearsal experimentation by which actors first impersonate new roles and then come to inhabit them more fully. There has been an exceptional display of this alchemy on our stages recently, with Mark Rylance's Rooster Byron and Eve Best's Duchess of Malfi among the standout examples. 'The Guardian' defends thus:
" ... The Oliviers won by Luke Treadaway and Helen Mirren for contrasting roles as a boy with an autistic spectrum condition and the Queen are other reminders – and Benedict Wong's Ai Weiwei is a current example – of the fruits of the company workshopping process of which Mr Brook was a pioneer. He may never have run this country's big theatres, but his influence permeates their award-winning work like no other."
Writing for BBC News, Tim Masters reports that Dame Helen Mirren may have been crowned best actress for her role as 'The Queen', but it was a "risky" project from the National Theatre that stole the show at this year's Olivier Awards. Winning seven out of the eight awards it was nominated for, 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' matched Matilda the Musical's record haul last year.
The adaptation of Mark Haddon's best-selling novel by Simon Stephens started life at the Cottesloe Theatre last summer before transferring to the West End. The play is booking until January 2014, but it could be around a lot longer if the track record of its director Marianne Elliott - who staged the National Theatre's breakout hit 'War Horse' - is anything to go by.
"It was an experimental journey, and like War Horse, we could not have done it anywhere else other than a properly subsidised theatre, because it was a risk," Elliott told the BBC backstage at the Royal Opera House, clutching her award for best director.
So the National Theatre is on something of a roll, Sydney Grew! I would go even further, however! We are privileged to be living through a quite unexpected cultural renaissance of the wider arts at the beginning of the twenty-first century. We New Elizabethans have become, once again, such things as dreams are made of! I propose some toast: to the first, the second and 'The Third'! Three cheers from kleines c and the gang (Wednesday morning tea)!
Personally I like improvisation and experimentation as a route to a production, and an investigation of who the characters really are.
However, not all directors use it. In fact I happen to know that Hytner doesn't use it, because he thinks it isn't a good use of time. He has a clear idea of what he wants in the show from the outset, and he begins work by discussing it with the actors - often over lunch, off the premises, individually - and then starts straight in with staging the scenes as he envisages them.
Alan Ayckbourne - who is an accomplished director of his own work, and that of others - similarly prefers a more 'directorial' approach.
And in Russia the idea of improvisation is scorned. "What, don't you know how you intend staging this show?", exasperated actors reply...
This is not one of my areas of expertise, Neil McGowan, so I cannot speak with any authority on the subject of directing plays etc, as you well know. What I would argue, however, is that there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Peter Brook's method obviously works for Peter Brook. I quite like the idea, because it allows the actors to explore the text for themselves. This is precisely what I try and do when I read a text! Actually, this has given me another idea for The Third's forthcoming lecture series, which I am supposed to be writing! More later ...