The National Theatre’s (NT) recent production of Othello, starring Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear, finished its sell-out run in the Olivier Theatre last week but, thanks to the NT Live programme, I was able to see the play in the unlikely location of the Stratford Picturehouse in East London. NT Live was set up in 2009 to broadcast NT productions live to cinemas, allowing audiences around the world to access performances that may otherwise have been impossible.
Othello is the most recent NT production to be presented in cinemas: the live broadcast took place on September 26 and encore screenings are scheduled at various locations. I had previously seen the NT Live broadcast of Frankenstein, so I knew roughly what to expect from Othello. To make it more of an event, the screening was supported by extra filmed material such as a pre-show talk and, like the actual production, NT Live’s Othello broadcast had an interval, which was very welcome given the three-hour running time.
The production itself was absolutely superb: the army-base set was shadowy and devoid of bright colours, which helped to focus attention on the tense drama that unfolded on stage. Rory Kinnear was chameleon-like as the malicious Iago, slipping between loyalty and hatred with ease in his manipulation of Adrian Lester’s Othello. However, in an incredibly masculine play, it was the women who were the standout players. Lyndsey Marshal gave a very powerful performance as Emilia, caught between her husband Iago and her mistress Desdemona, who was played with tenderness and sincerity by Olivia Vinall.
…the use of multiple camera angles and close-up shots meant that it was possible to see everything…
Watching a play in the cinema was a very different experience to live theatre, as the use of multiple camera angles and close-up shots meant that it was possible to see everything that was going on no matter where you were sitting. Another positive change was the filmed interval presentation on the pressures of army life and the importance of trust between comrades that shed light on why Othello so wholly believed Iago’s claims against Desdemona. On the downside, I felt slightly disconnected from the drama by watching Othello on a screen rather than a stage, since some of the power of live theatre was inevitably lost in transmission.
Still, NT Live’s Othello was a fantastic chance to see a high-quality production at a convenient location for an affordable price. Future broadcasts feature encore showings of some of the National’s most well received productions, including The Habit of Art with the late Richard Griffiths, and newer productions such as the Donmar Warehouse’s upcoming Coriolanus, starring Tom Hiddleston, that will be screened live for the first time in 2014.