The villain is a hero

EVERYONE loves a villain, no?

Whether it be JR Ewing or Dirty Den there is a certain kind of baddie, let’s call him an anti-hero, who people love to hate.

He may be rotten at heart, filled with Machiavellian cunning and set to destroy - yet the audience adores him all the same.

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And so let’s meet the latest of the kind - Dominic West’s Iago in the Crucible Theatre’s new production of the great Shakespearean play, Othello.

His characterisation of this evil-doer who plots the downfall of his master, the great warrior Othello, is engrossing, captivating, to such a degree that on occasions one forgets that this is, ultimately, a tragedy.

His ability to transform centuries-old verse with a certain intonation here, a rolled eye there, eradicate once and for all the suggestion that only the literary and cultured can enjoy Shakespeare.

Perhaps we saw a taste last night of how it really should be done, of how it might have been done in the era of the original Globe Theatre when audiences got fully involved - because, seriously, the temptation to hiss and boo and shout ‘he’s behind you’ was too much to bear on occasions.

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West uses a broad Yorkshire accent to such full, comic effect that at times he and Barrie Rutter, the founder of the great Northern Broadsides theatre company, bore more than a passing resemblance.

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And yet, and yet. Amid all the bawdy humour and peels of laughter were we missing something? Perhaps. For an Iago of this stature required an Othello to match.

Clarke Peters performed out of his skin - yet his characterisation lacked the gravitas, the brooding menace, the thinly-veiled potential for extreme violence. His impassioned fast-spoken speeches, arms stretched wide, head thrown to the heavens , carried powerfully to every crevice in the auditorium. But how much more effective would those words have been spoken slowly, quietly.

His reaction to those moments when Iago pours poisonous words into his ears lurch too quickly to a multi-decibel, multi-speed hysteria that loses impact. Don’t be put off though. For this is a stunning production. Brodie Ross was a revelation as the hapless Roderigo converting this weeping, wailing love-lorn character into a truly likeable wimp - a mouse that roared (once, literally).

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Lily James as Desdemona seemed to glow from within with her love for the Moor and her growing confusion at his turning against her was heart-wrenching. Her death scene was as disturbing as any I’ve seen.

And Alexandra Gilbreath, Iago’s wife Emilia, is the perfect foil - her earthiness only reinforcing Desdemona’s purity and innocence.

The audience left enraptured - delighted in their adoration of an old-fashioned baddie.

Simply put, the villain of the piece was the hero of the night.

Nicola Megson

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