Othello: Behind the Lines

Othello: Behind the Lines


Rude am I in my speech and little blessed
with the soft phrase of peace,
for since these arms of mine
had seven years pith,
they have used their dearest action
in the tented field
and little of this great world can I speakmore than pertains
to feats of broil and battle,
What’s really important, it seems to me, is that the army is
absolutely central to this play. It’s we’re going to want to explore – what a life spent devoted to violence has done to the men
who are at the centre of the play and to the women who find themselves
caught up in the drama. I’ve not said this yet, Lyndsey… I don’t see any reason
why she shouldn’t be in uniform, – Emilia.
– OK. I’m really sorry to bounce that on you!
(LAUGHTER) And by the way, Jonathan, who arrived late, who I hope will be able to talk to us
at some point, was until recently a pretty high-ranking
General in the British Army.I was 32 years in the military.
I retired last year.
I was a paratrooper. I’ve been
on operations throughout my life.
I commanded the effort
in Basra in 2007 in Iraq.
So I come with a lot of experience
of doing what Othello was asked to do.
He’s asked to fight a war and, when he
gets there, finds the war’s disappeared.
So he has to then run a garrison –
and I’ve done both.
I’ve fought wars and I’ve run garrisons.I think we’re going to want to work very
hard at the kind of stuff that might go on on an army base when there’s not much to do
except wait for something to happen.It’s very hot. People get very bored.
There’s a lot of alcohol.
As a commander, your job is to keep
the troops busy, keep them happy,
keep them motivated toward positive things
knowing full well that if you don’t,
they’ll fall into bad habits
and that’s exactly what happens
on the first night of the play.They get to Cyprus, all ready to go, fully locked and loaded and armed
and there is no…there’s no conflict. They simply get there and take over and wait… In that heat with nothing to do. Anyone who has any military experience
at all will know that that’s a powder keg waiting to go off.Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink![HUBBUB]Go, go, go!I’m here already and you could be
separating me here….
The main challenge on Othello
was the brawl
with those big boys in a confined space.When it comes to fights, we think blokes,
we think ego, we think testosterone.
And actually, everything that I do
is the opposite of that.
I do like my fly… Stand up tall.We’re working out where we’re holding,
how we’re going to fall.
I’m looking after people.Go.There’s a very crucial story
within that brawl
and that’s the Cassio story.It’s Cassio getting drunk, getting
into a fight and injuring another soldier
which is his downfall.So it’s making sure
that that’s told properly,
but also keeping everybody else
busy around it.
This is good.OTHELLO: Put by this barbarous brawl!We did this very brutal fight,
and Jonathan looked at it and went, “Yeah. “That looks like people who know
how to kill letting off a bit of steam.” Just letting off a bit of steam,
being quite gentle with each other. But, you see, the officer takes it too far.
He doesn’t know when to stop.What is the matter, masters?This is not a fight about violence.
It’s a fight about release.
That’s what Cassio gets exactly wrong.
I explained that’s exactly how it happens.
That’s why when I was a young officer
I wasn’t allowed down town
with the young blokes because that’s
the sort of thing that always happens!
Officers, alcohol and soldiers don’t mix,
as a general rule.
HYTNER: Jonathan Shaw has been extremely
interesting about the military context. One of the things he insists on is how
important trust is between men in the army. And it’s quite clear that the reason Iago
is able to do what he does with Othello is because Othello trusts him more completely than, maybe, two men
in civilian life would trust each other. It’s a given in the army. You have to.Let him command,and to obey in me shall be remorse,
what bloody business ever.
Military life is based on loyaltyand a code of honour amongst soldiers.And it’s from that, that Iago is able
to get away with what he does.
No one would question another soldier’s
loyalty to his colleague.
Now art thou my lieutenant.Their bond of friendship and of mutual
trust clearly goes back years.
Of course, that’s why Iago feels betrayed,because he believes that seniorityand length of service
should be what determines promotion.
His standing in the structures
of military life was pretty low,
although he had a closeness with Othello,
who obviously was at the very top.
So when passed over for promotion,and having his nose rubbed
in his mediocrity, I guess,
it’s that trigger that snaps him
into doing something about it.
I gave them advice on how to dress,
how to wear their berets, their clothing.
All of them took that on board, and
on stage they look really proper soldiers.
There’s one exception to that,
and that’s Rory himself, with Iago.
No matter how many times I told him about
wearing his beret slightly tilted forward,
or flat, but certainly not tilted
backwards,
“and do something about the knot at the
back cos it’s dangling down,” he wouldn’t.
His trousers are all scruffy.
They run down over his boots.
I kept saying, “You should alter that.”Then I stopped saying that, because that’s
the way he’s portraying the character.
He’s a man who has boozed and smoked
and drunk and whored his way through life
and it’s catching up with him.I had some military people see the play.
A friend of mine said, “Great effort.
“Pity you couldn’t get Iago
to dress properly.”
I said, “Yes, that’s the point!”

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  1. Thank you for your comment, you may be interested in watching his 'in conversation' which is also in the playlist on 'Othello'.

  2. It's a FANTASTIC production! Seen it thrice live at the National and I won't miss the encore screening when it gets to my country 🙂
    Thanks for the video and another bunch of helpful insights!

  3. I saw this. It had a few good bits, but some of it was boring. Othello' scene in the portacabin with the other dignataries was far too quiet. I was sitting in the front seats, but I know that the people in 'the gods' could not hear a word. Shame cos the portacabin scene contains some of the most beautiful language.

    Rory's cockney accent destroyed the beautiful language that Iago has. Kenneth Brannagh does a better Iago than Rory. Rory was a very scary, evil character, but the scene he has with Adrian in the office was a load of faeces. He was speaking incomprehensibly. Shame.

    If I had some tomatoes, I would have dashed it at them. And the audience clapping at the end was all fake. They were clapping cos they were too scared to just walk out. I will never go to the RNT again, unless Brannagh or Hopkins is acting. Waste of time and money.

    These actors become big names, and directors are too petrified to give them brutal, honest feedback. They need to read David Mamets book, True or False, or Peter Barkworths, About Acting.

    The first job of the actor is to be HEARD (Stanislavski)

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