Pros: Fast paced, edgy and pitch perfect, this production delivers Shakespearean drama in a contemporary British setting. A strong cast and wonderfully narrative, athletic choreography rivet the audience in their seats.
Cons: The brilliant music is very loud in contrast to the voices, which detracts a little from their impact.
There is no doubt about it – Othello is a cracking tale of power, jealousy, love and betrayal, and those themes transcend the centuries. You can take your pick of productions of this classic tale in London on any given weekend, but you will not find one to match Frantic Assembly’s intelligent and powerful offering. The setting is the backroom of any run down pub in any struggling town, and Othello is running the gang by virtue of his relationship with the boss’s daughter Desdemona. Drugs, petty crime and fending of the rival mob with baseball bats are all that interrupt playing pool and the fruit machine. Iago isn’t happy; he wants the helm and the bigger cut it brings, so he plots to bring down Othello and his right-hand man, Cassio, using Desdemona to drive a wedge between them. This is a violent, drug and alcohol fuelled world and like many gang-related incidents, people end up dead.
I cannot express how exciting this interpretation of the well-trodden play is! From curtains up to the bitter end, it is loud, fast, action packed, rough and violent. Yet the choreographed scenes are beautifully executed and bring fluidity and aesthetics to this gutsy performance. And unlike other contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare I have seen recently, it is unquestionably relevant. Every piece of dialogue makes sense in the context, and every character is believable and real, despite the fact they are speaking outdated English in regional accents. This story really could have played out in a pub, in a town in ‘Broken Britain’.
The acting is impressive; each character is strongly delivered and clearly defined by the talented cast. The standout performance for me was Stephen Miller as Iago. Miller totally nails the duplicitous, manipulative villain, who is a loyal, likeable mate on the face of it and a menacing murderer beneath. The stage direction and choreography add to the tension and the action, and the seat rattling volume of the soundtrack ensured no one was napping! I loved the use of the collapsible walls to almost cinematographic effect. Clever stuff!
I think this production deserves a big audience and the Lyric is a great place to stage it, with its traditional theatre space at its heart, clad in a modern, hip exterior. It’s got a very hip vibe and the bar was properly buzzing before the show. This is a great spin on Shakespeare, particularly for a younger audience as it drives home the irrefutable fact that his work survives because, beneath the olde English, are exciting stories. This is a contemporary, relevant accessible take on Othello, and I urge you to see it in its new light. I am planning to see it again!
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Scott Graham
Producer: Frantic Assemble
Design: Laura Hopkins
Lighting Design: Natasha Chivers
Sound Design: Gareth Fry
Additional Choreography: Scott Graham and Eddie Kay
Booking Until: 7 February 2015
Box Office: 020 8741 6850
Booking Link: http://www.lyric.co.uk/whats-on/production/frantic-assemblys-othello/book-tickets/