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The Moorish General Othello is manipulated into thinking that his new wife Desdemona has been carrying on an affair with his Lieutenant Michael Cassio when in reality, it is all part of the scheme of a bitter Ensign named Iago.
Iago and a comrade-in-arms are outside the Venice home of Desdemona's father, who does not yet know that she has eloped with Othello. Iago confides to his friend -- who had hoped to marry Desdemona -- that he serves Othello to further his own ends. Venice needs Othello to protect its commercial interests in Cyprus where the Turkish fleet is headed. Desdemona insists on going to Cyprus, too. In Cyprus, Iago plots to convince Othello that Desdemona has betrayed him with Cassio. A lot more than political ambition seems to be motivating Iago.Written by
Dale O'Connor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
There is controversy here about the performances of Hopkins and Hoskins as the two major protagonists, and controversy about the nature of the production.
That there is controversy is understandable - it's a very schizophrenic production, careful and understated and clipped and British for the most part, excellently acted by a tasteful cast, Penelope Wilton and Rosemary Leach outstanding. Yet the two principals are given free rein.
Hoskins' Iago is the more successful of the two, scintillating in monologue, focusing on the evil of the character, trying to convey his plausibility via his rough charm. Hard to imagine the stiff-upper- lip types of Jonathan Miller's Venice being taken in by such a fellow, entertain them though he might.
But there is more than one letter's difference between Hoskins and Hopkins. Hopkins' performance is, as some of the reviewers have pointed out, as ripe a piece of eye-rolling ham as one is likely to see. Despite other reviewers' valiant attempts, it is really not a defensible performance, rising so rapidly from suave control to chewing the scenery, persuaded far too easily by an Iago who is obviously on the make.
The exaggerations help provide a context for his tense scenes with Desdemona - we certainly know how much he is holding back. The power of the moment when he slaps her is impressive. But when he lets rip, the acting style gets closer to Chongo out of the Banana Splits than any more accomplished thespian.
The effect is not at all helped by Hopkins sporting the most extraordinary pair of trousers I have ever seen, designed by Richard Hughes. The bizarre codpiece looks like Hopkins has had a painful accident with a stapler, and his stature is seriously compromised by odd curving stripes down the legs. This produces a number of odd and unintentionally humorous effects, most awfully during Emilia's affecting death scene, where Hopkins, standing behind the bed as a witness, appears to have little tiny legs, like Toulouse-Lautrec.
Either Miller could not control Hopkins, or gave him his head. It doesn't matter which - the result is an unsatisfactory mishmash, neither one thing nor the other.
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