Theatre Review: Othello, Trafalgar Rooms 1, London

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Passing the theatre on the bus, I spot Othello at the Trafalgar Rooms 1, a small theatre off Trafalgar Square. I jump off on the off chance, and find that the cheapest available seat is actually ON the stage.

During the course of this play, I find myself inches from the action, a recipient of Lenny Henry’s spittle.

The setting is quasi-modern,  not Elizabethan but perhaps a little Edwardian, but the text is faithful and the verse delivered with style, northern accents (a conceit perhaps or a happy accident) prevailing. Reflecting on this on the way home, I conclude that the accents are Leeds. I lookup at home the Independent’s Review now, and see that it is a West Yorkshire Playhouse (ie Leeds) Production. Funny that. I think their review was a little harsh, and/or it has settled down, for Henry’s performance was well paced.

The text is astonishingly sexual, vividly racist and very very funny. I had forgotten quite how sexual, racist and humourous it really is.  Still, it is 25 years since I studied it for A Level and sa Ben Kingsley play the Moor.  It is a play like this reminds you of Shakespere’s genius, his skill with words, his dramatic constructions. On the page, the good text is there, but it belongs on stage, performed; a bit like St Paul’s letters, perhaps.

Lenny Henry plays the Moor with gravitas and dignity, so different from the standup I have seen from him in the past. Of course: the man can act! This is I understand, his first Shakespeare. His breakdown at the hands of Iago (excellently played by Conrad Nelson)  – possibly the best villain character in theatre ever is clear, Henry’s passion is visible: his breathing firey threats (and spittle) of murder most impressive.

The simple staging places all the emphasis on the drama: using the stairs and the central entrance to good effect. At the end, after 3 hours, it did not feel like it- it is such a powerful story that it flew past. It was a brilliant evening and one of the best choices I have made in the theatre. You can’t hold back a good story!