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Posts Tagged ‘Tanya Franks’

I’ve lost count of the number of productions of this play I’ve seen, but few of them unfolded like a thriller, or seemed to fly by so quickly. Clint Dyer’s production is a very fresh take on Shakespeare’s tragedy.

The setting feels like a 1930’s fascist state. There’s a silent chorus, called ‘system’, all dressed in black, who sit on steps on three sides of a rectangular amphitheatre with the fourth side steps down into the auditorium. The edgy soundscape is the final touch in creating a sinister atmosphere. The racism is heightened by this, together with the fact Othello is the only black character on stage, but the misogyny is heightened too, particularly with the abuse of Emilia by Iago clearly visible.

Iago, black-suited with a Hitler moustache, is a very malevolent presence throughout, signalled by every gesture and expression, though his motivation isn’t entirely clear; is it really just racism? Othello’s origin in slavery is suggested by a back covered with scars from whipping. Much of the time he seems so alone, our sympathies are intensified, though we still can’t stomach his treatment of Desdemona. In the final scenes the soundscape is silenced but the tension increased.

Paul Hilton’s Iago has a touch cartoon villain about him, but this didn’t detract from the personification of evil. Tanya Franks was excellent as Emilia, clearly afraid of her husband, eventually struggling to come to terms with his villainy. Desdemona is a bit of an underwritten role, but Rosy McEwen somehow brought her to the fore more than I’ve seen before. I thought Giles Terera had great presence as Othello, and brought passion and physicality to the role. His Othello is one man against the world.

It’s only nine years since the NT last staged it, with Adrian Lester & Rory Kinnear in the Olivier next door, but this proves to be a very welcome and very impressive new look at what I think is one of Shakespeare’s best plays.

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This is the third play by French playwright Florian Zeller that we’ve had in London in less than twelve months, all translated by Christopher Hampton. I worried when the second, The Mother, was stylistically similar to the first, The Father, that he might be a one-trick pony, even though I admired both. Fear not, the third is very different and quite possibly the best.

The first scene introduces us to Michel and his best friend’s wife Alice in a hotel room. They are having an affair. What unfolds over 90 minutes in seven scenes in six locations, each involving just two of the characters, is the unravelling of their infidelity, taking many twists and turns, keeping you guessing until the final moments. It’s a masterly piece of writing and it’s very funny. To say any more would spoil it. 

Lindsay Posner’s staging is as masterly as the writing and Lizzie Clachan’s design is as clever as the play’s structure, changing location with the slide of a screen. Alexander Hanson as Michel is onstage throughout, carrying the play, and he does so brilliantly, but the other three – Frances O’Connor, Tanya Franks and Robert Portal – are terrific too.

Apparently there are six more plays we haven’t seen, including a companion piece to this, unsurprisingly called The Lie. I can’t wait. Three plays in and I’m convinced he’s a find.

This is why I go to the theatre. I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t follow The Father into the West End. Unmissable.

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