Photo by Luke Hayes
60 years of The National Theatre! I have never known the South Bank without that crazy fabulous Brutalist building that inspired so much of my youth and childhood dreams of becoming an actor. When I was at university, we formed a theatre company called “The Smashing Theatre Company” (terrible youthfully exuberant name but we can’t have been that terrible because Dame Judy Dench agreed to be our patron – this is what I reassure myself with when reminiscing) and we would meet at the gorgeous cafe in the foyer (without the Dame, she was always strangely busy) and discuss incredibly earnest theatrical topics “But can one watch 4 Pinter Plays in an hour without imploding?” They didn’t implode and they loved it and I almost certain that our “Pinter for Peer” campaign through the streets of Edinburgh blaring out the Blairing “Things can Only get Better” song definitely helped not Sir Harold with his peership…even though he turned it down…
Photograph by James O. Davies
At drama school we had a friend who worked at “The Nash” and would let us sneak in to evening performances when there were free seats. We would watch with eyes sparkling, knowing that one day we too would tread those very boards…I managed a tour backstage but at least two of my fellow Lamda alumni from my year have been in several plays here since those enthusiastic dramatical student days.
I am still inspired and overwhelmed with the productions that they put on, always challenging, always pushing boundaries, always creating memories. In middle life post earnest jobbin’ actress days (The Face of Newcastle Building Society…Surf Washing powder..A Channel 5 series that got cancelled half way through…) I struggle to make it into London town which is why I absolutely adore The National theatre at Home. Being able to watch these shows from my sofa snuggling my children (possibly slightly pinning them down) is a truly wonderful way to spend an evening. It might not be razzle dazzle any more but I am still transported to a magical world where anything can happen.
The reviews for this Othello were astonishing and I cannot wait to sit down on Thursday 19th at 7pm with children lightly squashed next to me whilst they show me how to work Youtube and watch this extraordinary production.
‘Giles Terera shines in this powerful, brutal staging’
‘Clint Dyer makes this tragedy feel utterly new’
“A bright, headstrong daughter of a senator, elevated by status but stifled by expectations; a
refugee of slavery, having risen to the top of a white world, who finds that love across racial
lines has a cost. Wed in secret, Desdemona and Othello crave a new life together, but find
their future is not theirs to decide.
Captured live on the Lyttelton stage, Giles Terera
(Hamilton), Rosy McEwen (The Alienist) and Paul Hilton (The Inheritance) lead the cast.
Director Clint Dyer said: “I’m so delighted that we will be sharing Othello around
the world. We designed the production with an eye for film from the very beginning, framed
within the Lyttelton stage, and capturing the cinematic experience you already feel in the
theatre. Othello is at its heart a love story, and Giles and Rosy give an electric performance
together. It felt necessary to me to bring this factor, the love, along with the societal pressure
and systemic issues we are still party to today to the fore; so as to highlight what I believe
Shakespeare was trying help us look at in ourselves. I hope we’ve made it thrilling, and that
you’ll join us to see this powerful story told on the big screen.”
If you can’t watch it on the 19th, it will be on youtube for 3 days, then on the 22nd october move to National Theatre at Home for Free for 4 more days. You can use discount code ‘welcome1’ to get 1 month NTathome for free as well. Yippeee!!!!
For those interested I have copied my go to Spark Notes that give a brilliant summary (so useful when studying Shakespeare) of the play:
Othello begins on a street in Venice, in the midst of an argument between Roderigo, a rich man, and Iago. Roderigo has been paying Iago to help him win Desdemona‘s hand in marriage. But Roderigo has just learned that Desdemona has married Othello, a general whom Iago begrudgingly serves as ensign. Iago says he hates Othello, who recently passed him over for the position of lieutenant in favor of the inexperienced soldier Michael Cassio.
Unseen, Iago and Roderigo cry out to Brabantio that his daughter Desdemona has been stolen by and married to Othello, the Moor. Brabanzio finds that his daughter is indeed missing, and he gathers some officers to find Othello. Not wanting his hatred of Othello to be known, Iago leaves Roderigo and hurries back to Othello before Brabanzio sees him. At Othello’s lodgings, Cassio arrives with an urgent message from the duke: Othello’s help is needed in the matter of the imminent Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Not long afterward, Brabanzio arrives with Roderigo and others, and accuses Othello of stealing his daughter by witchcraft. When he finds out that Othello is on his way to speak with the duke, Brabanzio decides to go along and accuse Othello before the assembled senate.
Brabanzio’s plan backfires. The duke and senate are very sympathetic toward Othello. Given a chance to speak for himself, Othello explains that he wooed and won Desdemona not by witchcraft but with the stories of his adventures in travel and war. The duke finds Othello’s explanation convincing, and Desdemona herself enters at this point to defend her choice in marriage and to announce to her father that her allegiance is now to her husband. Brabanzio is frustrated but acquiesces and allows the senate meeting to resume. The duke says that Othello must go to Cyprus to aid in the defense against the Turks, who are headed for the island. Desdemona insists that she accompany her husband on his trip, and preparations are made for them to depart that night.
In Cyprus the following day, two gentlemen stand on the shore with Montano, the governor of Cyprus. A third gentleman arrives and reports that the Turkish fleet has been wrecked in a storm at sea. Cassio, whose ship did not suffer the same fate, arrives soon after, followed by a second ship carrying Iago, Roderigo, Desdemona, and Emilia, Iago’s wife. Once they have landed, Othello’s ship is sighted, and the group goes to the harbor. As they wait for Othello, Cassio greets Desdemona by clasping her hand. Watching them, Iago tells the audience that he will use “as little a web as this” hand-holding to ensnare Cassio (II.i.169).
Othello arrives, greets his wife, and announces that there will be reveling that evening to celebrate Cyprus’s safety from the Turks. Once everyone has left, Roderigo complains to Iago that he has no chance of breaking up Othello’s marriage. Iago assures Roderigo that as soon as Desdemona’s “blood is made dull with the act of sport,” she will lose interest in Othello and seek sexual satisfaction elsewhere (II.i.222). However, Iago warns that “elsewhere” will likely be with Cassio. Iago counsels Roderigo that he should cast Cassio into disgrace by starting a fight with Cassio at the evening’s revels. In a soliloquy, Iago explains to the audience that eliminating Cassio is the first crucial step in his plan to ruin Othello. That night, Iago gets Cassio drunk and then sends Roderigo to start a fight with him. Apparently provoked by Roderigo, Cassio chases Roderigo across the stage. Governor Montano attempts to hold Cassio down, and Cassio stabs him. Iago sends Roderigo to raise alarm in the town.
The alarm is rung, and Othello, who had left earlier with plans to consummate his marriage, soon arrives to still the commotion. When Othello demands to know who began the fight, Iago feigns reluctance to implicate his “friend” Cassio, but he ultimately tells the whole story. Othello then strips Cassio of his rank of lieutenant. Cassio is extremely upset, and he laments to Iago, once everyone else has gone, that his reputation has been ruined forever. Iago assures Cassio that he can get back into Othello’s good graces by using Desdemona as an intermediary. In a soliloquy, Iago tells us that he will frame Cassio and Desdemona as lovers to make Othello jealous.
In an attempt at reconciliation, Cassio sends some musicians to play beneath Othello’s window. Othello, however, sends his clown to tell the musicians to go away. Hoping to arrange a meeting with Desdemona, Cassio asks the clown, a peasant who serves Othello, to send Emilia to him. After the clown departs, Iago passes by and tells Cassio that he will get Othello out of the way so that Cassio can speak privately with Desdemona. Othello, Iago, and a gentleman go to examine some of the town’s fortifications.
Desdemona is quite sympathetic to Cassio’s request and promises that she will do everything she can to make Othello forgive his former lieutenant. As Cassio is about to leave, Othello and Iago return. Feeling uneasy, Cassio leaves without talking to Othello. Othello inquires whether it was Cassio who just parted from his wife, and Iago, beginning to kindle Othello’s fire of jealousy, replies, “No, sure, I cannot think it, / That he would steal away so guilty-like, / Seeing your coming” (III.iii.37–39).
Othello becomes upset and moody, and Iago furthers his goal of removing both Cassio and Othello by suggesting that Cassio and Desdemona are involved in an affair. Desdemona’s entreaties to Othello to reinstate Cassio as lieutenant add to Othello’s almost immediate conviction that his wife is unfaithful. After Othello’s conversation with Iago, Desdemona comes to call Othello to supper and finds him feeling unwell. She offers him her handkerchief to wrap around his head, but he finds it to be “[t]oo little” and lets it drop to the floor (III.iii.291). Desdemona and Othello go to dinner, and Emilia picks up the handkerchief, mentioning to the audience that Iago has always wanted her to steal it for him.
Iago is ecstatic when Emilia gives him the handkerchief, which he plants in Cassio’s room as “evidence” of his affair with Desdemona. When Othello demands “ocular proof” (III.iii.365) that his wife is unfaithful, Iago says that he has seen Cassio “wipe his beard” (III.iii.444) with Desdemona’s handkerchief—the first gift Othello ever gave her. Othello vows to take vengeance on his wife and on Cassio, and Iago vows that he will help him. When Othello sees Desdemona later that evening, he demands the handkerchief of her, but she tells him that she does not have it with her and attempts to change the subject by continuing her suit on Cassio’s behalf. This drives Othello into a further rage, and he storms out. Later, Cassio comes onstage, wondering about the handkerchief he has just found in his chamber. He is greeted by Bianca, a prostitute, whom he asks to take the handkerchief and copy its embroidery for him.
Through Iago’s machinations, Othello becomes so consumed by jealousy that he falls into a trance and has a fit of epilepsy. As he writhes on the ground, Cassio comes by, and Iago tells him to come back in a few minutes to talk. Once Othello recovers, Iago tells him of the meeting he has planned with Cassio. He instructs Othello to hide nearby and watch as Iago extracts from Cassio the story of his affair with Desdemona. While Othello stands out of earshot, Iago pumps Cassio for information about Bianca, causing Cassio to laugh and confirm Othello’s suspicions. Bianca herself then enters with Desdemona’s handkerchief, reprimanding Cassio for making her copy out the embroidery of a love token given to him by another woman. When Desdemona enters with Lodovico and Lodovico subsequently gives Othello a letter from Venice calling him home and instating Cassio as his replacement, Othello goes over the edge, striking Desdemona and then storming out.
That night, Othello accuses Desdemona of being a whore. He ignores her protestations, seconded by Emilia, that she is innocent. Iago assures Desdemona that Othello is simply upset about matters of state. Later that night, however, Othello ominously tells Desdemona to wait for him in bed and to send Emilia away. Meanwhile, Iago assures the still-complaining Roderigo that everything is going as planned: in order to prevent Desdemona and Othello from leaving, Roderigo must kill Cassio. Then he will have a clear avenue to his love.
Iago instructs Roderigo to ambush Cassio, but Roderigo misses his mark and Cassio wounds him instead. Iago wounds Cassio and runs away. When Othello hears Cassio’s cry, he assumes that Iago has killed Cassio as he said he would. Lodovico and Graziano enter to see what the commotion is about. Iago enters shortly thereafter and flies into a pretend rage as he “discovers” Cassio’s assailant Roderigo, whom he murders. Cassio is taken to have his wound dressed.
Meanwhile, Othello stands over his sleeping wife in their bedchamber, preparing to kill her. Desdemona wakes and attempts to plead with Othello. She asserts her innocence, but Othello smothers her. Emilia enters with the news that Roderigo is dead. Othello asks if Cassio is dead too and is mortified when Emilia says he is not. After crying out that she has been murdered, Desdemona changes her story before she dies, claiming that she has committed suicide. Emilia asks Othello what happened, and Othello tells her that he has killed Desdemona for her infidelity, which Iago brought to his attention.
Montano, Graziano, and Iago come into the room. Iago attempts to silence Emilia, who realizes what Iago has done. At first, Othello insists that Iago has told the truth, citing the handkerchief as evidence. Once Emilia tells him how she found the handkerchief and gave it to Iago, Othello is crushed and begins to weep. He tries to kill Iago but is disarmed. Iago kills Emilia and flees, but he is caught by Lodovico and Montano, who return holding Iago captive. They also bring Cassio, who is now in a chair because of his wound. Othello wounds Iago and is disarmed. Lodovico tells Othello that he must come with them back to Venice to be tried. Othello makes a speech about how he would like to be remembered, then kills himself with a sword he had hidden on his person. The play closes with a speech by Lodovico. He gives Othello’s house and goods to Graziano and orders that Iago be executed.
Yes, it’s quite dramatic! And if you fancy a giggle or have teenagers who are studying Othello, I absolutely love the American site Shmoop which uses hilarious youth speak to break down language boundaries:
We start out in Venice, Italy, land of love and water. We meet two guys early on: Iago and Roderigo. Iago, who’s been taking money from Roderigo in some sort of “arrangement,” is upset at “the Moor,” a.k.a. Othello, our tragic hero. Othello is a general in the Venetian army, and he just chose another man, Cassio, to be his lieutenant. This angers Iago, who wanted the position for himself.
Iago and Roderigo decide to get back at Othello by making a nighttime visit to Brabantio, the father of Desdemona (a.k.a. the woman Othello has recently eloped with). When Iago and Roderigo tattle on Othello for marrying Desdemona without her father’s permission, Brabantio rushes to his daughter’s room and discovers that she is missing. According to the angry father, this must mean that “the Moor” somehow “tricked” his daughter into whatever the two of them are doing together.
Cut to Othello in the next day or so, who’s hanging out with Iago and talking about his new wife, Desdemona. Trouble is brewing since Brabantio is a senator and therefore pretty influential. It’s clear that he’ll try to split the pair up. But Othello isn’t worried. Since he’s legendary in the Venetian military, he believes his service record will get him through just fine. He adds that he really loves Desdemona, too.
The conversation is interrupted by Michael Cassio (the guy who got the lieutenant position over Iago), who says the Duke of Venice needs to see Othello right away, because there’s some military action going down in Cyprus. Before everyone can peacefully exit, Brabantio shows up with Roderigo and various henchmen, ready to kill Othello or at least maim him severely for having the audacity to marry his daughter. Looks like everyone is off to see the Duke and settle the matter.
Once we get to the Duke, Othello speaks in his defense: he says Desdemona was an equal participant in their courting, and there was no trickery involved. They’re now very much in love and married. Our woman in question, i.e. Desdemona, finally arrives and confirms the whole story. At this, the Duke tells Brabantio to stop whining and sends Othello to fight the battle in Cyprus. Desdemona states that she’ll come along, as do Iago, his wife Emilia, Cassio, and Roderigo.
Iago and Roderigo have a little conversation during which Roderigo complains about being lovesick for Desdemona, and Iago says he’ll get them together as soon as they bring down Othello. Once alone, Iago reveals a rumor that Othello was having sex with Iago’s wife, Emilia. (The rumor is totally untrue and it’s not even clear that Iago believes it.) To get revenge, he’ll take out Cassio and Othello by convincing Othello that Cassio is having sex with Othello’s wife, Desdemona.
So our cast of characters gets transported to Cyprus, where instead of battle there’s just a big party (long story, read your play for the details). We note that Cassio is a ladies’ man, especially around Emilia. While on watch together, Iago gets Cassio drunk and orchestrates a fight between him and Roderigo.
Othello intervenes and fires Cassio for being belligerently drunk instead of doing his job. Iago then convinces Cassio that he should ask Desdemona to tell Othello to give him back his job. Once alone, Iago schemes more about how he’s going to convince Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio.
Cassio talks to Desdemona and she agrees to try to convince her husband to give Cassio his job back. As Othello is seen approaching, Cassio slinks off, not wanting to have an awkward moment with the guy that just fired him. Iago (entering with Othello) notes how suspicious it is that Cassio hurried off like that. Once the two men are alone, Iago plants (and massively fertilizes) the seed of suspicion. Cassio, he hints, is having an affair with Desdemona. He warns Othello to keep his eye out for anything suspicious, like Desdemona talking about Cassio all the time and pleading for his job back.
Othello is so upset he gets physically ill. Once Desdemona is back, she tries to bandage his head playfully with the “special handkerchief” Othello once gave her, a symbol of their undying love, an heirloom from his dead mother, and eventually the cause of a whole lot of trouble—which is why we later call it “the handkerchief of death.”
To make a long story short, Emilia steals the handkerchief for her husband Iago, whom we learn has asked for it repeatedly in the past. Iago plants the handkerchief of death in Cassio’s room. Othello enters, and Iago furthers Othello’s suspicions with the aid of various outright lies. When Othello learns about the handkerchief, he decides that Desdemona is cheating on him, and because of that, she has to die.
The next scene brings us to Othello arguing with Desdemona while Emilia watches. He wants to know where the handkerchief is and Desdemona, oblivious, wants to talk about Cassio. Fighting ensues.
Shortly afterwards, we meet Bianca, a prostitute who’s in love with Cassio. Cassio gives her the handkerchief he got from Iago, and swears it’s not a love token from another woman. Some time later, Iago sets up a conversation between himself and Cassio, in which he gets Cassio to speak provocatively about Bianca. According to Iago’s plan, somehow Othello, hiding and listening in, will think Cassio’s speaking of Desdemona. So while Cassio is saying, “Yeah, I gave it to her good,” Othello is thinking, “I’m going to kill that guy.”
To make matters even worse, Bianca storms in and throws the special handkerchief in Cassio’s face, having discovered that it indeed belonged to another woman. She storms out, with Cassio following behind her. Othello rages for a bit, and Iago advises that he strangle Desdemona. The next time the couple interacts, Othello hits her in the face (in front of a messenger from Venice telling him he has to go back home). Shortly after that, Othello yells at his wife, calling her a “whore,” a “strumpet,” and lots of other hurtful names. Filled with jealousy and indignation, he eventually resolves to kill his wife.
Back on the other manipulation front, Roderigo is getting tired of Iago taking all his money and not delivering the goods (i.e., Desdemona), as promised. Iago tells him to cool his jets, and also to kill Cassio when the opportunity arises, which, according to Iago, will happen that night between midnight and 1:00 AM.
Meanwhile, Desdemona and Emilia are talking together, and Desdemona begins to act strangely, foreshadowing her own death. She sings of it, too. Emilia, meanwhile, defends the act of cheating on one’s spouse, especially if there’s a good reason for it.
Iago and Roderigo hang out, waiting for Cassio. Roderigo tries to stab Cassio, fails, gets stabbed himself, and looks to be in trouble until Iago sneaks up and stabs Cassio in the leg. Two Venetian gentlemen run in at the sound of Cassio’s screaming. Iago pretends he just stumbled in himself, declares Roderigo to be the assailant, and stabs Roderigo to death before the man can claim otherwise. Bianca runs in and screams a bit, and Iago tries to pin the mess on her. Emilia enters and Iago weaves her a lying tale. He instructs her to tell Othello and his wife about the news.
Othello, meanwhile, kills Desdemona, just as Emilia enters the room. In this moment of confusion, Emilia reports (incorrectly) to Othello that Cassio killed Roderigo. Othello is furious to find that Cassio is still alive, as that was definitely not the plan. Emilia finally puts two and two together and realizes her own husband is the cause of everyone’s tragedy.
As people pour into the room, Emilia outs Iago for being a rat. Iago promptly stabs his wife, but not so promptly that the truth can’t come out first. Othello demands to know why Iago ruined his entire life, but Iago refuses to give him (and us) a good reason. The Venetian gentlemen decide to take Othello back to Venice to face his punishment for killing his wife, and Cassio inherits Othello’s post in Cyprus. Othello, overwhelmed by grief, decides to end his life rather than live without Desdemona.
I do love this summary!!
I really hope you can join me and the pinned down children and millions of others to watch this amazing production on Thursday 19th October on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkKYT-WwyMQ