Othello – review

This review also appears in Western Park Gazette 

A Frantic Assembly and Theatre Royal Plymouth co-production
by William Shakespeare
directed by Scott Graham
originally adapted, directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Curve Theatre, Leicester

Kirsty Oswald (Desdemona) & Mark Ebulue (Othello) in Frantic Assembly's Othello. Credit Manuel Harlan. 63 Frantic Assembly’s swaggering take on Othello is a perfect example of what is so good about Shakespeare: a play written four hundred years ago at the dawn of the English language as we know it now, but whose themes can be transposed to a different time and setting and still be relevant.

Frantic Assembly have re-joined forces with Theatre Royal Plymouth in this co-production, first staged in 2008, revised for 2014 and now beginning a UK tour. We take our seats to loud house music which seems to please the massed ranks of Year 10 and 11s, fulfilling Frantic Assembly’s mission to ‘attract new and young audiences with work that reflects contemporary culture’.

Richard James Neale, Barry Aird, Steven Miller, Dritan Kastrati & Ryan Fletcher in Frantic Assembly's Othello. Credit Manuel Harlan. 210Swap Venetian splendour for disaffected youth in a back room bar somewhere ‘up North’. This is Shakespeare in trackie bottoms and trainers, baseball bats and beer bottles and a story of young people with not much else to do but drink, fight and fall out. Disappointment hangs in the air and the petty squabbling, drab setting and prejudice add a 21st century slant to Shakespeare’s tale of jealousy, sex and murder.

The Northern accents work well with the text, again showing Shakespeare’s versatility and application to a new audience – it does not have to be delivered in clipped, RP English to be understood.

The opening scenes are stunning as little dialogue is exchanged but a lot said with the company’s trademark physicality; pool cues become objects of bravado and seduction and the cast move almost balletically around the pool table. Laura Hopkins’ set design is impressive: walls ripple as Cassio descends into drunkenness and appear to close in on Othello as his paranoia and jealousy take hold. These walls fold back to reveal a pub car park – perfect for taking the fights outside – and a run-down ladies toilet, resplendent with graffiti and rusting appliances.

Leila Crerar (Emilia) & Kirsty Oswald (Desdemona) in Frantic Assembly's Othello. Credit Manuel Harlan. 294This is pared-down Shakespeare but the core of the story is still here: Othello loves Desdemona, Desdemona loves Othello. Othello promotes Cassio over Iago, Iago’s envy drives him to convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful with Cassio, signified by a misplaced handkerchief (this is the one thing that didn’t quite work – who uses a handkerchief now?). Inevitably with the Bard, tensions build to a climax of senseless tragedy and the final sequences are brutal.

The cast convince as cocksure young men, up for a fight and a feel of the girls if they get the chance. Ryan Fletcher (Cassio) and Steven Miller’s Iago are strong, Richard James-Neale’s Roderigo is a compact bundle of trouble and Kirsty Oswald a sympathetic Desdemona. Her love scene with Othello is surprisingly tender and their movements around, on and over the pool table beautiful to watch. However, Mark Ebulue’s Othello falls a little flat – his physical presence and movement are compelling to watch but delivery seemed lacklustre in places.

If you like your Shakespeare urban and with added bite then this is a must-see production: creative, dramatic and eminently watchable. I will give you fair warning though – 100 minutes long and no interval is not for the faint-bladdered.

Sally Jack

At Curve Theatre 28 Oct – 1 Nov

Images by  Manuel Harlan

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