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Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe

William Shakespeare
Remixed by The Q Brothers

Pros: A very strong and entertaining modernisation of a Shakespeare classic.
Cons: The tragedy loses something in translation. Shakespeare’s original text is overwritten – not for purists.
Our Verdict: A must-see, if nothing else to see a version of Othello quite unlike you have ever witnessed, or ever will again.
Image courtesy of The Arts Desk
Shakespeare’s Globe couldn’t have timed their Globe to Globe initiative any better. Coinciding with the World Shakespeare Festival, and capitalising on the ever-increasing hordes of international tourists flowing into London in the run up to the Olympics, Globe to Globe is delivering all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays, each performed in a different language by top theatre companies from around the world. So far, so sublime. And, almost as a tribute to the late but great MCA of the Beastie Boys, who sadly died just a day before this production opened in London, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (no, we haven’t spelt it wrong, that is how Americans insist on spelling it!) offer us a novel twist on a classic tragedy: Othello in Hip-Hop. The result is outstanding, if unconventional.
Hip-Hop, of course, originated in 1970s New York, far removed from the Venice of the Elizabethan era where Shakespeare would have intended Othello to be set. Yet somehow, the story yields to heavy modernisation with surprising ease. In this incarnation, Othello is a successful MC about to go on tour with his crew, which consists of Iago, Cassio, and his muse Desdemona.
What about Shakespeare’s beautiful language? How could that be interpreted through Hip-Hop? Well, this is a question which is valid, and the answer will no doubt upset the Shakespeare purists. The play was entirely re-written as a series of Hip-Hop songs, complete with modern references, drum-machines and a live DJ controlling the beats and samples. It is no wonder the show bears the subtitle Othello: The Remix. The Q Brothers, GQ and JQ, who wrote, and directed the production, modernised the script very tastefully. As the cast (of just 4) explain in the opening prologue (which was of course, rapped), the idea was to keep the essence of the story, to tell the same tale but in a different register. The outcome is a clever, witty, and hilarious script, albeit one Shakespeare himself might have blushed at.
As for the performances, the actors cannot get enough praise. Jackson Doran, who plays Cassio and Iago’s wife Emilia, gives a jolly and energetic performance. Postell Pringle shines as Othello, the King of Hip-Hop, with his huge stage-presence and impressive lung capacity. JQ, who plays a host of characters from Roderigo to Bianca, gives funny, sharp performances. However, the star of the show is GQ who gives a slimy rendition of the devious Iago. Did i mention there was a live DJ playing the music, but also playing along with the action all the while? The cast, as a whole, must have outstanding stamina to survive such a performance: this is Shakespeare electrified.
To sum up, this is a production which takes Othello, and hurls it into the 21st century. The production is lively, fast-paced and comical. However, it is also incredibly moving at times (Othello is a tragedy after all). Desdemona’s death scene, for instance, is striking – the DJ changing the balance of treble and base as Othello smothers her with a pillow (base when her head is covered, treble when it is not), was an inspired and powerful directorial choice. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater company deserve all the praise they can get for this ambitious production.

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Othello was part of the Globe to Globe Festival at Shakespeare’s Globe. Although it has finished it’s 3-performance run, more details on Globe to Globe can be found here:  http://globetoglobe.shakespearesglobe.com/ 

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