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Posts Tagged ‘Ira Aldridge’

I was so excited about two of my favourite actors cast as Othello (Adrian Lester) and Iago (Rory Kinnear), heightened by seeing Lester play Ira Aldridge play Othello in Red Velvet at the Tricycle last year, there was a big risk of disappointment. The surprise turns out to be  how much else I loved about Nicholas Hytner’s production and how the exciting casting didn’t overshadow it at all. This is one of the best Othello’s I’ve ever seen, and one of the best modern settings of Shakespeare.

After the initial scenes in Venice, we are propelled to a hyper-realistic army camp in Cyprus, brilliantly designed by Vicki Mortimer. As soon as you get into the rhythm of the verse, this is a contemporary thriller, not a 400-year-old play. It builds brilliantly and draws you in to the story of power, jealousy and revenge. About the only implausibility in a contemporary world is that it all rests on a handkerchief!

The racism Othello is subjected to struck me more than ever. Iago seems much more complex here than I’ve ever felt before. The scene where the authorities decide to send Othello to Cyprus could be a cabinet meeting at the outset of the Iraq war. In the barrack room, the soldiers play drinking games and get drunk, as they would. Ludovico arriving by helicopter rather than ship makes complete sense. This is intelligent rather than gimmicky, though perhaps Roderigo as Prince William is a little tongue in cheek! From the moment that Othello takes Iago’s bait (in the gents!) it unfolds like the best thrillers.

Neither Lester nor Kinnear disappoint and compare favourably with my other Othello’s, from Ben Kingsley (when it was acceptable!) to Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Iago’s, from Ian McKellen to Ewan McGregor. Lyndsey Marshall as a soldier Emilia is the best interpretation of this role I’ve ever seen. In a distinctly unstarry company, there is fine support from William Chubb as Brabantio and Nick Sampson as Ludovico, amongst others.

I think I enjoyed this even more than any of the other Hytner Olivier Shakespeare’s and at the end I was desperately hoping his departure as AD won’t mean its the last.

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What a terrific curtain-raiser to Indhu Rubasingham’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Tricycle Theatre. An excellent new play from comparative newcomer Lolita Chakrabarti with one of our greatest young actors, Adrian Lester (her husband!), leading an excellent  company in Rubasingham’s own masterly staging. A play about a man who played Othello 180 years ago performed by a man who will do so next year – delicious!

The play tells the story of black American actor Ira Aldridge’s experiences in London in 1833 as he takes over the lead in Othello due to Edmund Kean’s illness. It’s framed by scenes set in Lodz in Poland 34 years later that show him still working in Europe if not Britain. Slavery had just been abolished, which wasn’t entirely welcome and riots had broken out on the streets – so you can imagine what happened when a black actor took to the country’s greatest stage to play Shakespeare.

The play held me for every second of its running time. It was fascinating, shocking and totally captivating. Lester was simply wonderful (oh I am so excited about the real thing – with Rory Kinnear as Iago no less!) but the whole company was excellent, with Eugene O’Hare overcoming caricature as a passionate French theatre manager and Charlotte Lucas playing Ellen Tree playing Desdemona, both beautifully.

The experience of Aldridge was shocking and we gasped as the real and shamefully racist reviews of his opening night were read. The rest of the cast on either side of the stage watch intensely during the pivotal showdown between the actor and the theatre manager; we can see them but the performers can’t, in an inspired piece of staging. When he whites up for Macbeth at the end we’re shocked again. It’s all impeccably done, with lightness and economy and a lovely use of music. The building’s original proscenium arch has been gilted, distressed and integrated into Tom Piper’s clever design.

I’m sure this will be in my list of Best New Plays of 2012. Another triumph for the Tricycle as it looks back at its ground-breaking past under Nicholas Kent and its exciting future under Indhu Rubasingham. Miss at your peril.

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