It was good to see a large number of teenagers at the showing. I often wonder at NT Live performances why they are so badly attended by people under the age of thirty (at our cinema anyhow), especially as Drama is such a popular subject in schools. When I was a teenager I know that my friends and I would have sold our devoted Mums into slavery for the opportunity to see world-class theatre for little more than the price of a cinema seat (Oh, the callousness of youth!). Presumably the increased attendance last week was because the play is a text for some examwork? It certainly was when I was at school, I recall studying it for my A Levels. However, I didn't get an opportunity to actually see the play performed until last Thursday evening - so, for me, it was a first! And it was, I am pleased to say, definitely worth waiting for. The play's message rings out with crystal clarity across the four hundred years dividing us from Shakespeare's life and times. The writing is truly wondrous - sometimes it seems a bit unfair on the rest of us just how brilliant he was. My wife pointed out how many book/play titles and sayings we take for granted and are accepted as part of our English tongue, which have been simply lifted from 'the Bard'. He seems to understand and explain the human condition like no other playwright. Unfortunately, four hundred years hasn't seen much alter in the way of human nature. The play's themes of suspicion, jealousy and hate are sadly as relevant today as they were when the ink for Othello was still wet on the page.
The roles of Othello and Iago were superbly portrayed and brought to life in this excellent National Theatre production, directed by Nicholas Hytner, by Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear respectively. The leading actors are supported by a very good cast,and the passage of time hasn't by any means diminished the play's power to shock and move us. It remains a thoroughly disturbing experience to watch a good man being fed lies, until his mind has been utterly poisoned against his faithful and adoring wife, culminating in the most appalling tragedy. The character of Iago has always intrigued me, in particular his lack of a really solid motive for his malevolence. At times during the play he soliloquises and gives us different reasons for his hatred of the Moor. Yet, they are never completely convincing: Cassio was preferred for a recent promotion over him; he says he has heard a rumour that Othello may have slept with his own wife, Emilia; at one time he tells us that he himself is besotted with Desdemona. However, these pronouncements lack much weight and conviction it seems to me: I suspect Iago's true motive is simply hate.
I put a quote from the final scene of Othello at the beginning of my novel Roadrage, a psychological thriller that is itself concerned with the corrosive power of hate and intolerance. I chose it too (without giving anything away) because my 'baddie' has quite a lot in common with Shakespeare's great malcontent. The words are as chilling today as they doubtless were when first spoken by an actor back in 1604:
Will you, I pray, demand that demi-devil,
Why he hath thus ensnared my soul and body?
Demand me nothing: What you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word.