Thursday, August 08, 2013

National Calamity: Othello without Othello

Booking a matinee for a prestigous London theatre production with a star cast is always a risk.  There is the clear and present danger that one of the leading luvvies shirk the demands of doing two shows in a day. Precious pets.  Matinees also of course provide the opportunity to blood an understudy for future eventualities.  And so it predictably proved at the National Theatre in London last Saturday.  Near the entrance to the stalls as we made for our seats was a discreet A4 notice informing us that Adrian Lester, playing Othello, was indisposed and that a Zackary Momoh would be his replacement.  Now Zackary is a fine fellow no doubt but not the name that would have induced you three months earlier to book the play.  When you decide to book the theatre, your decision is based on the play, the company, and the cast.  Othello is essentially a two-hander so you look to the parts of Iago and Othello:  Rory Kinnear as Iago and Adrian Lester as Othello, brilliant, I'm going.

The play was still a delight - Shakespeare done to a turn.  Iago is the engine that drives the action and Rory Kinnear, playing it as a chippy subaltern, was superb.  It was staged in a 1950s style setting with the cast wearing Army style fatigues and acting very much like a bunch of British squaddies in Cyprus.  The set  design was a miracle of neat scene shifting  -  interlocking mini-stages rotating into the foreground.  But. But. Momoh declaimed his lines readily enough - although muffling some including, unfortunately, my favourite one about the "base Indian" throwing away a pearl richer than all his tribe.  However, he crucially lacked charisima.  How could such a tame presence have won the love of Desdamona with his tales of derring-do and impressed his Venetian master?

Checking out Adrian Lester's Twitter feed later I noticed that he would be doing the evening performance.  Nothing too serious then unfortunately.