As mid June approaches there is an excitement that booms around the West End like Brian Blessed clearing his throat in preparation for a Shakespearean monologue, reminding us of the impending arrival of West End Live. This year is particularly momentous as it is the 10th anniversary of the event which began with humble beginnings at Leicester Square. In recent years it has transferred to Trafalgar Square so as to accommodate the vast crowds that descend to see the best of the West End perform live on stage. For those who do not know, West End Live is a weekend of celebration of all things musical theatre and amazingly this phenomenon is free! Where else are you able to see The Commitments rub shoulders with Matilda, Jersey Boys tear it up and excite the crowds and new to the West End musicals; The Pajama Game and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, reach out to those who may be wavering about seeing something new and parting with hard earned cash on something they don’t really know that much about.
Let’s face it as well as showing the talents of the cream of the West End stage and providing two days of pure entertainment for the thousands who flock into Trafalgar Square, it is also a huge PR campaign in order to attract people into the shows outside of the event. Nowadays it is not a cheap evening out taking in a show in the West End. Seats vary in prices but a decent seat to a premier show can cost upwards of £50 with the hot shows commanding a jaw droppingly £100+ per ticket. With this in mind it is easy to see how West End Live can entice a punter into seeing a show that perhaps would not be their first choice. Safe bets such as Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera always have an audience and Book of Mormon has a cult type following surrounded by the hype of a daily lottery that ensures they have a full house.
So what of the shows that took part? My personal favourites were The Jersey Boys, The Commitments and The Pajama Game all of which shone above the rest.
On the Saturday The Jersey Boys came out to begin singing “Sherry” only to be presented with the soundtrack to a number from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels! After a somewhat pregnant pause where my immediate thoughts were they should have gone into some sort of hoe down barn dance routine, swapping the checked shirts of Scoundrels for the red jackets of the boys from Belleville. However in a more professional way than I would Michael Watson stepped forward took the mic and got the crowd fired up. Once the correct music was on, as expected from a tight professional group of performers the dance routine finally took off to the refrains of “Sherry” and the whole set exploded. Aside from the Jersey Boys it was great to see all four of the girls perform on stage together too; a lovely touch. Sunday’s Jersey Boys performance was far slicker and went without a hitch, the boys did not enter the stage until “Sherry” was actually playing and at the end of their set there was a Jersey Boys West End Live selfie (or WELfie as it was hash tagged) that was taken from the stage with the crowd in the background. If you want to catch this show then it is currently running at The Piccadilly Theatre just off Shaftesbury Avenue.
A tough call on Saturday was opening the show and this was done by The Commitments (currently showing at The Palace Theatre), lead by Ian Stewart McIntosh who performed superbly as Deco. Despite a difficult task of being first on and getting the crowd fired up, after a few shouts of ‘Hello West End Live’ the crowd were on board and joined in with a hearty rendition of “Mustang Sally”. It was a pleasure to hear people within ear shot saying how they now wanted to go and see this show and as a regular visitor I have to agree and say it is a feel good musical. Bravo Ian Stewart McIntosh for giving an energetic performance that the crowd really warmed to.
If no one has seen The Pajama Game which is currently at The Shaftesbury Theatre then I urge you to do so, their Saturday slot at West End Live was upbeat and lively and “Once a Year Day” showcased the talents of the whole cast. Dan Burton stepped up admirably into Michael Xavier’s shoes as Sid Sorokin and a real joy was on the Sunday when he performed “Hey There (You With the Stars In Your Eyes)”; a song that clearly suited his voice and style.
A major criticism of the day was the lack of water available to the crowd. The sun was well and truly out and temperatures were high. Despite warnings from the presenters on stage to slap on suntan lotion and keep hydrated, there were no facilities to help with the latter. At the very least there should have been free water points dotted around the Square and anyone who has attended festivals will know that there are always places where people can fill up their bottles. This really needs to be addressed and planned for in case there is a scorcher next year.
A special mention must go to all the performers and back stage staff that selflessly give up their time and turn up regardless of the fact they have matinees on the Saturday and for some the Sunday too. In my experience the performers give as much energy and commitment to performing for 15-20 minutes at this high profile free event as they do in their day jobs in their respective theatres. This really does highlight the wonderful nature of the actors who support this event.
All in all this was the best West End Live I have attended; great shows, great weather and great performers on stage. Without these committed and dedicated actors, generous and hardworking backstage creatives and local councillors that administer the event it would not be as fantastic as it was in it’s 10th anniversary year.
Here’s to next year!

There is always a bit of a dichotomy when hearing about a musical being made into a film. There's the thrill of knowing that a musical is going to be kept in perpetuity for others to enjoy but there is also the aching pain in the gut as to what will happen if a show that is loves gets tampered with beyond all recognition and ends up like the Joan Rivers of film; unrecognisable and freakishly terrifying.
Now I'm all for the cross over of mediums and there has been a number of well known West End shows that have done this; some with success others not so much: Phantom of the Opera (eek) and Les Miserables (thumbs up-ish) to name but two. There are also those straight to DVD musicals of recent years: Love Never Dies and Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary Concert. All of which are good promotion for the shows and help keep the musical form alive.
Hearing that director Clint Eastwood was about to add the Jersey Boys to this list was intriguing. Actually is it a list of musicals? What is the collective noun for them anyway; a company, a bevel or a belt? Maybe a glitterball! However, whatever is deemed to describe it I was in a quandary as to imagine whether the “man with no name” who directed The Unforgiven, Absolute Power and Million Dollar Baby to name but three would be able to do one of the best musicals both sides of the Atlantic some sort of justice. This is a musical that means many things to many people. There are those who remember Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in their heyday, those that have come across their music via a variety of covers by other performers and those that drifted into a theatre hoping to pass a pleasant couple of hours and came away speechless with it’s story, characters and music.
My initial concern was to who he would cast in the roles of the four main leads. The horrifying thought that some popular Okay-ish Hollywood actor who thinks he can cut it with some lacklustre performance as Frankie Valli and be digitally recorded with enhance vocals was nagging away at the back of my mind like a woodpecker tap tap tapping desperately to get himself noticed. Having been lucky enough to have seen many great theatre performers in this role, including the Tony award winner, originator on Broadway, John Lloyd Young I could not see how Eastwood would tackle this. I should not have doubted him as he did what many Musical Theatre fans could have only wished for and that was to cast mostly musical theatre performers and importantly top notch actors. With John Lloyd Young reprising his Broadway and West End role of Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen the 1st National US tour Bob Gaudio and Michael Lomenda the 1st National US tour Nick Massi, Eastwood was already ensuring those who loved the show were on board. The casting of Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito was the only lead I knew little about but having seen the film I can honestly say he’s done the role proud.
Eastwood has kept faithful to the show narrative, allowing each character to tell his story directly to us, the same experience the audience have in the theatre productions. What we get in the film however is what is not possible to achieve on stage; the feel of the Jersey streets, the cars, how people lived in a tight knit community, the claustrophobia and need to escape something that keeps dragging them back to their roots. This in no means suggests the stage productions are inferior but this is another medium and one that can offer something different (in the same way the stage production offers something different than the film).
From the opening shots locating us firmly in Belleville New Jersey and the introduction of Tommy DeVito telling us he’s the one we need to talk to if we want the real story, there is a feeling of warmth and understanding that Eastwood has for this narrative. The slippery Tommy who is always out for himself is played with intensity by Piazza. Tommy is a complex character and this is even more obvious in the film.
Clearly reaching out to both film lovers and Jersey Boys fans alike, Eastwood not only keeps much of the stage dialogue but also drops in visual references that in the stage show are spoken; the cockroach scuttling across a placemat depicting a map of America will resonate with show stalwarts who will instantly recognise the reference to Frankie’s words in the show. The comedy moments when trying to load a heavy safe into the back of a car then making a getaway from a robbery, the “it’s a sign” comment by Frankie to Tommy, all welcomed by Jersey Boys fans and film goers alike. But Eastwood gives more time to develop the relationship between Frankie and his daughter Francine, which is not possible due to the constraints of a stage production; the fact Eastwood has Francine’s drugged up boyfriend hang up on her phonecall to her father; the fact Frankie gets a ‘heavy’ to drag Francine to him; the fact we have more time to witness a lonely broken Frankie over the death of his daughter all makes the relationship more poignant. Some tough scenes and some excellent acting by Young who is as convincing as the young naive Frankie as he is as the older life worn one.
Eastwood allows the characters to develop with consummate ease, Lomenda’s Massi who constantly refers to “starting my own group” is measured and precise in his performance reflecting the Massi characteristics fans have grown to love. The scene where Tommy is using every towel in the hotel room and then expecting Nick to throw him the last towel off his bed, only to blow his nose on it, sees Massi on the verge of explosion. Lomenda gives one of the best “10 years” rants and after seeing Tommy’s towel behaviour it is easy to understand why.
Erich Bergen plays a laconic Gaudio who is the voice of reason and calm. This translates well on screen and we see how his relationship with Frankie develops; when Gaudio gives Frankie the lyrics to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” shortly after his daughter’s death is poignant to say the least. Leaving him to ponder on the song, Gaudio wraps his scarf around Frankie’s neck telling him he doesn’t want him to catch pneumonia; a touching moment between the two characters and which both Bergen and Young translate well on screen; there is clear chemistry between the two.
There are some superb supporting roles, most noticeably Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo; the film allows more time developing the relationship between him and Frankie. Renee Marino plays a feisty but broken Mary Delgardo who admirably portrays the difficulties of being married to someone who is away from his family far more than he’s with them.
The overriding nature of this film is Eastwood has chosen the right people for the job. Conveying his vision for the film with clear strong references to the stage show he has allowed his actors to do what they do best; act, sing and dance, “the triple trifecta”.
Whatever you do when you see this film, stay to the end as the ‘encore’ dance routine is infectious and if it had been in a theatre I would have stood up to dance. The plethora of musical numbers that just pour from this film is enough to make your heart soar and there has been great skill in interweaving it throughout the film. If you love the musical the Jersey Boys then you are going to love this film. If you’ve never seen the musical then you are going to love this film.

Jersey Boys 2014 c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Jersey Boys 2014
c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

My blog has been on something of a hiatus and for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’ve been reviewing and editing for someone else and I find it quite hard to reconcile my “evening job” with what I write personally, secondly my time has been full of more theatre than I care to mention and finally I have been getting a little bored with a lot of blogging that’s been flying across my Twitter Timeline and Facebook page. That’s not to say the blogs aren’t any good, but more the case I’m seeing the same thing over again and I feel I have nothing to offer that is different. However, for a number of weeks I have had friends and people I vaguely know ask me to jump start my blog and say what I feel and think. I have listened, thought about it and seeing as I have an hour to spare thought I’d dust my creativity off and in the words of Gene Hunt fire up the metaphorical Quattro and zoom off into the distance.

The next dilemma is what can I write about. Have I got a burning issue over something? Those who know me understand I get quite fiery and jump on my soap box, say what I think in a no holds barred, seriously lacking in bullshit way, something I have been either loved or loathed for. So what is getting me excited enough to rekindle my love of words I hear you ask? You are asking? Well let me tell you my friends it’s the current cast of The Jersey Boys.

Having seen the show many, many times at its previous haunt, I recently visited it with renewed vigour at The Piccadilly Theatre a couple of months ago and what a transformation. The venue is more intimate, many of the cast are new and there is a buzz about the show that I felt was lacking for sometime at The Prince Edward. With my recent visit very firmly in my mind  I offer you my thoughts on the show.

For those uninitiated, The Jersey Boys is not your standard juke box musical. Despite having a smorgasbord of hit songs that you probably never realised were written and performed by these four colourful characters from New Jersey, there is a real life story behind it which gives the narrative more kudos and a feeling of warmth and interest that some shows in this genre lack. The Jersey Boys in question are Frankie Valli (Michael Watson), Bob Gaudio (Edd Post), Tommy DeVito (Jon Boydon) and Nick Massi (Matt Nalton) who are supported by one of the strongest and most versatile cast I have seen in the West End. Through these four characters we are taken on a journey of friendship, love and a camaraderie that is not often seen .

From the opening updated rap version of “Ces Soirees-la (Oh What a Night)” through to well known classics such as “Sherry”, “Big Girls Don’t Cry”, “Walk Like a Man”, “December 1963 (Oh What a Night) and “Beggin'” there are songs that many audience members suddenly recognise. You can veritably hear the audience mutter “ooo did they sing that one” every time another song is sung. It is however, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” which make the audience hold their breath and applaud Watson unreservedly at the song that never nearly ‘saw the light of day’, so iconic this needs to be delivered perfectly otherwise the audience will walk away disappointed; they were not.

Michael Watson c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Michael Watson
c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Having seen this show a number of times with Watson as Valli (including in The Prince Edward when he was alternate) it is a pleasure to see how he has grown in confidence and developed as an actor in this iconic role; not an easy task especially following in the footsteps of Tony Award winner John Lloyd Young who initiated the role on Broadway. From the naive and innocent Valli, Watson moves away from being the little brother of Boydon’s DeVito to the maturing man with all the weight of a disintegrated marriage and the tragic and heartbreaking death of his daughter behind him. He does this with consummate ease demonstrating his versatility as an actor who is able to adapt to the character his is portraying. It is not just the voice; Watson has Valli’s legendary falsetto close to perfection, which is no easy task as it is renowned for being one of the most demanding roles in musical theatre. There is an innocence to Watson’s young Valli when he first meets his wife which is in stark contrast to the hardened man Watson portrays when frustrated with DeVito’s behaviour later in the show. But it is his palpable emotion when hearing of his daughter’s death that tests him and he does not disappoint. Watson has developed immensely over the past few months and is making this role his own. In the words of his character Watson ‘has greatness thrust upon him’ here and this role is most definitely safe in his hands!

Jon Boydon c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Jon Boydon
c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Supported by the ebullient Boydon as DeVito who adds an edginess that could easily be disliked, the show allows each character to give their own perspective on the groups development.  However, it is Boydon’s charm and cheekiness that allows him to carry off some of the funniest one liners of the show. His inability to conceive the prospect of the sign ‘Four Seasons’ being the groups last chance of success is funny and somewhat ironic. Despite being one of the leads from the Prince Edward’s days Boydon’s energy shows no sign of fading and his character is embraced by the audience ‘my hand to god’.

Matt Nalton c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Matt Nalton
c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Nalton is a welcome addition to the show as Massi. He gives a freshness to the role that he is clearly putting his own stamp on. His constant wish to ‘start my own group’ resonates throughout the show making him a likeable character. A lovely voice that sits well with the others Nalton appears a natural as Massi who is a succinct and incisive character that occasionally lets things ‘slide’. It must be said however, that it is his ’10 years’ tirade that never fails to impress those watching and which he embraces with gusto.

Edd Post c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Edd Post
c Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

Edd Post portrays the laconic Gaudio with ease and style. Slightly at odds with those around him he is the final piece of the jigsaw that moulds the group. Post’s, “Cry For Me” showcases Gaudio and his ability to gel the group. A voice of reason, Post’s Gaudio is a square peg in a round hole amongst the other three group members, who spent their lives on the edge of criminality. Nothing highlights this more than when they are all arrested and Gaudio calls DeVito a ‘cretin’ as he is unimpressed about getting a criminal record! You really warm to Post’s Gaudio and it is easy to understand why the relationship between him and Valli works; something that translates on stage.

Aside from the storyline that holds these characters together one of the joys of this show is the attention to detail. The backdrops of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art paintings reflect the era and sit well with the songs in the show. The costumes, hair and makeup all add to its authenticity; red jackets, full skirted dresses and slick hair combine to make this show a cut above other musicals in this genre.

This is a show with a great heart and it’s closing numbers, “Working My Way Back to You”, “Rag Doll” and “Who Loves You” before an exuberant reprise of “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” surely has to make The Jersey Boys the most upbeat feel good show in the West End, appealing to all age ranges and genders. If you have never seen the show then go soon as with the build up to Clint Eastwood’s film of the same name, which is released on both sides of the Atlantic on 20th June this is sure to become even more popular than it is now. With a cast that are slick, tight and full of energy there is a real good vibe about the show, I defy anyone not to walk out smiling and singing a tune (badly in my case). If you like catchy songs, clever dance routines and a strong story with characters you genuinely care about then this is the show to see.

Wednesday 9th October 2013 was the 27th Anniversary of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera and having neglected this show at Her Majesty’s theatre since the 25th Anniversary year I returned with mixed thoughts as to how the reasonably new cast will top my previous experiences of this classic show. Lead by Phantom, Geronimo Rauch, it appears the show is in extremely safe hands. Raoul  was played by a competent, but slightly older than expected, Sean Palmer and against an alternate Christine, Harriet Jones. A few other performers stepped up into roles and a special mention must go to the fabulous Fiona Finsbury who sang and acted superbly as the invidious Carlotta Guidicelli and Layla Harrison as Meg Giry.  It was lovely to see Andy Hockley as Monsieur Firmin, who I had not seen on stage since The Phantom of the Opera tour and partnered against Martin Ball as Monsieur Andre there was a clear chemistry and understanding between them.

The real pleasure was seeing Rauch as the Phantom. It goes without saying that his voice is outstanding but the true delight was seeing him act.  From his rather exciting and differently interpretted Music of the Night,  through the shattering Don Juan Triumphant, finishing with his heart breaking final lair scene, Rauch had the emotions of the Phantom well and truly wrung out like a tear soaked sponge.  There was a palpable whiff of sexual desire for Christine which really did manifest itself in Rauch’s Music of the Night and if truth be told was quite breathtaking.   When holding Christine in his arms and  whispering into her ear, “touch me, trust me, savour each sensation” there is an uncomfortable feeling that the audience is intruding into something too personal to be shared.  I hoped that Christine could have been a little more reactive to the Phantom whilst in her trance but I felt this was somewhat lacking in Jones’ response and not due to any fault on Rauch’s part.  Despite the Phantom’s anger with Christine during Wandering Child, like a man clearly in love Rauch’s Phantom forgave and forgot his threats towards Christine in the Don Juan scene.  Despite being crushed by Christine’s rejection, he without a doubt shows his unconditional love when he lets her and Raoul go free from his lair.  As Rauch drags himself across the stage this is unmistakably a ruined and shattered man and as I looked across the audience there were many sat with their mouth agog; the atmosphere was extremely intense.  I for one could not take my eye’s off Rauch’s performance, he exceeded my expectations.  If there is any issue with the show it is that I actually forgot that Christine and Raoul were part of the equation; the performance was all Rauch’s.

This show is clearly in good shape and a touching moment was after the curtain call when Rauch acknowledged the presence of Phantom greatness in the form of Gillian Lynne and Charles Hart.  Then encouraged by Rauch to “sing for me” a Happy Birthday to the show, the audience happily obliged through a flurry of confetti which flew across the auditorium whilst a large Phantom cake was presented to the cast.

An amazing night for an amazing show topped by a performance by an amazing Phantom.

With a cast of theatre stalwarts including, Sheridan Smith (Titania) and David Walliams (Bottom) there was an expectation that Michael Grandage’s fourth ‘instalment’ of plays in the Michael Grandage Company Season at The Noel Coward Theatre, A Midsummer Night’s Dream would live up to previous expectations. Unfortunately this is not the case. A production that looks like a chimera of Godspell and Hair does nothing to engage and introduce a new audience to the Shakespeare canon.
Smith tries very hard to make this work but sadly seeing the spliff fuelled hippie Titania staggering then lounging across the set does absolutely nothing to endear Shakespeare to the masses. There is a decided weakness in Padraic Delaney’s Oberon and it is easy to see why Titania does not bend to his whim when he asks her “am not I thy lord?”; he has no authority.
The biggest disappointment however is with Walliams, who depicts Bottom as an overly camp combination of characters from Little Britain and Frankie Howerd’s Lurcio from Up Pompeii (titter ye not). Bottom is a mechanical, a working class simpleton but the painful depiction of his relationship with the rest of the workers is dire. The death scene of Pyramus is agonizing in its labour and the sparse laughter from the audience was cringe worthy at times, this demonstrates why casting big names in plays does not always work.
Two major highlights from the show are the scenes with the young lovers Stefano Braschi (Demetrius), Susannah Fielding (Hermia), Katherine Kingsley (Helena) and Sam Swainsbury (Lysander) and the set created by Christopher Oram. Kingsley’s Helena is feisty, funny and incredibly engaging. Her movement across the stage and her comic timing showed what a talented actress she is and the other three lovers along with her really do work incredibly hard to lift the show; bravo to them.
It was sad to see that after the interval there were a number of newly emptied seats and perhaps this shows why Shakespeare does not often work on the West End unless it has David Tennant or Jude Law in a role….errmm….hang on, bring on part five of Grandage’s season when Law will bring Shakespeare to the masses; now that really will be worth seeing!

Disclaimer: If the cap fits then ……

Now the fact you’re reading this means you know or have probably worked out I’m a blogger. Not a fervent one but a part time, now and again writer of limited ability one. I blog whenever the fancy or need takes me. I spend a lot of my time in the theatre; as an audience member, not cast or creative, so much of my blogging revolves around shows or plays I have seen and activities I have witnessed; take a look at previous blog entries and you’ll see what I mean.
I usually have to be encouraged to write and by that I mean I need a reason. Often these reasons are in the form of a show review or a topic I feel strongly about. Well like manna from heaven I came across a reason to put the proverbial pen to paper to prompt and nurture a discussion on blogging. Now there are good and bad bloggers; those people whose blogs I read and chuckle, those that give me serious pause for thought and those that are spammed across social media by the blogger themselves begging for someone to read it like a dog drooling at their owner to throw them a bone. I’ve recently had private discussions with numerous “cyber friends” about this so with a fillip well and truly planted and my impetus afire this blog is about blogging and the desperation of bloggers.
I have recently witnessed the inanity of the desperate blogger and by that I mean the desperation of a blogger “touting for business”. Now writers write for numerous reasons, I do it to get things off my chest, as a form of catharsis, as a means of enjoyment. If people like what I write or even if they don’t but it germinates a discussion then that’s fine. I’m pretty crap at ‘getting my blog out there’ but my response to those that have said this to me is that I’m writing for me not for others. I usually throw it out into Twitterland and see who in cyberspace decides to read it; word of mouth has worked so far. However, I have noticed the propensity for bloggers to awkwardly spam numerous performers in the hope they will read their blog.
Now don’t get me wrong I sometimes ask the bloggers I enjoy reading to give me a heads up if they write something new, likewise there are a few of my friends that ask me to give them the nod when I release a new instalment. But it is the bloggers who actively spam and pester unsuspecting performers that has really riled me and a number of others. My Twitter timeline this past 24hrs appears to have been hijacked by desperado bloggers begging members of a new West End show to read their blog. Now one of the blogs in question is a pseudo-review (not really the thing to do when a show is in previews), but putting that faux pas aside, it is the constant tweets to the cast members to read it that is painfully splattered on my timeline. Firstly, I assume in previews when teching and rehearsals are taking up every spare moment performers have more vital things to do than read a blog by someone who is going to gush and fawn without any real substance. Secondly; why do it? And thirdly; why do it?
So let’s move on from that and assume the schoolboy blog tweeting error, an internet interruption, akin to a pestering child butting in on an adult conversation, has been sent, what should said blogger do? I assume sit back and wait for praise. What happens if praise, comments or retweets are not forthcoming? Well just sneak in a quick reminder tweet to make doubly sure they have seen it; repeat to fade until you elicit a polite response. This smacks of desperation and is wildly inappropriate and probably unwanted; I don’t want it so goodness knows what the person on the receiving end feels! Let’s face it spamming performers with your blog begging for a response is akin to twerking at the MTV Awards, it should never happen and if it does then expect someone like me to reach for my metaphorical crossbow, load it with a perfectly aimed bolt and shoot the said twerker out of cyberspace. I’m not insinuating my writing is any better than others; good grief on a scale of 1-10 I probably rate myself a solid 2 or an anxious 3. But I would say I know the difference between appropriate, responsible blogging and what isn’t; after all I’m an adult!
So be it bad or good, should you through the miracles of Twitter come across this, please feel free to comment on my pearls of flammable wisdom. It is not compulsory and I shan’t be asking twice!

Nycholas Hynter’s National Theatre production of Othello last night brought together Adrian Lester (Othello) and Rory Kinnear (Iago) in a tour de force spectacular that was breathtaking.  It was great to see Lester return to the National Theatre after such an long absence since Henry V and to see him paired with Kinnear, last seen here in The Last of the Haussmans.   To see these two actors play off against each other in one of Shakespeare’s most recognisable plays is a real pleasure.

From the opening scene the audience is under no misapprehension as to the deceiving disposition of Kinnear’s Iago; his sleight of hand in pocketing Roderigo’s (Tom Robertson) packet of cigarettes outside the nightclub sets out his character’s disingenuous nature from the start.  Iago is a bad ‘un and possibly the most Machiavellian of Shakespeare’s characters and Kinnear does not disappoint.   Lester with his voice of pure gold gives us an Othello that is believable but perhaps a little too intellectual at times and as such it might seem he is easily duped. However, it is clear to see how this clever leader of men can fall so easily for Iago’s duplicitous ways. The military setting of a Camp Bastion-esque proportions set in Cyprus underpin the relationship between Othello and Iago.  The concrete barriers and metal gates, harsh spotlights and Corrimec containers that depict the office, soldiers accommodation and latrines give a gritty realistic feel to this; well done to Vicki Mortimer for getting it right!

Othello has crawled his way up to his elevated military position as General in the Venetian army with his ensign Iago at his side. If there was ever any doubt as to why Othello would trust Iago above his Desdemona (Olivia Vinall) then this is where we find it.  These two are fellow soldiers and as such trust each other implicitly; it’s what soldiers do! Othello is quick to believe Iago and we already know that Iago will “pour this pestilence” against Desdemona “into his ear” in order to usurp the young newly appointed lieutenant Cassio (Jonathan Bailey) and punish Othello for refusing him this position.

The stage bristles with machismo; military camaraderie, drinking games, fights, sounds from helicopters and guns, all of which give a sense of a testosterone fuelled powder keg ready to explode.  The head to head manipulation scenes between Kinnear and Lester highlight the believable nature of Iago’s deception; he is subtle and allows Othello to jump to easily made conclusions.  Othello’s pain is palpable and when Lester describes how Desdemona’s handkerchief “comes o’er my memory as a raven doth over an infected house” and opens his arms eagle like embodying the words, there is a real feeling of a man on the brink of his own downfall. His whole ego has been slaughtered by Desdemona’s perceived actions and Othello is unable to deal with it.  Give him a war and he excels, give him affairs of the heart and he is lost.

A special mention must be made to Lindsay Marshall who plays Emilia, Iago’s wife superbly. Both female leads in Othello are quite minor despite Desdemona being the reason Othello sets himself on the road to destruction. However, Marshall does a sterling job with Emilia showing how her loyalties are torn between Iago and Desdemona and there is a poignant moment between the two of them when they sit outside the barracks singing “Willow”.

The star of the show is Kinnear. His Iago moves from the comedic, especially in his encounters with Roderigo and his asides to the audience, to a dark and nasty Machiavel when laying out his plans.  Kinnear gives us an Iago that is not only living by his wits but also on the edge; his tics and turns of the head, his quirky hand movements and the deferential body language when in the presence of Othello show us the true evil in him. His plosive emphasis on some words fairly spit hatred for those around him and in this character alone the Bard has been revitalised.

The one thing that was irritating was the inappropriate audience laughter at certain moments in the play. The death of Desdemona, Emilia and Othello had nothing funny about them but it seemed to cause a certain trickle of laughter across the auditorium.  Even the death of Roderigo gave cause to chuckle.  Apart from this minor audience based irritant this is a play that demonstrates what excellent actors this country produces. Lester and Kinnear at their very best!


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 469 other followers