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Ring of Envy, Intermission Youth Theatre

Written and directed by Darren Raymond

Pros: A great performance space, talented young performers and a company that has a truly applaudable mission.

Cons: Poor choices made in mixing Shakespearian language with contemporary expression made it hard to keep up, resulting in the feeling that the production was unpolished and lazy; an interesting set design in theory turned out to be a hassle for viewing.

Our Verdict: An overall inconsistent, lackluster attempt to update Shakespeare’s complex and intriguing Othello.

Courtesy of Intermission Youth Theatre

The Intermission Youth Theatre is housed in the upstairs of the beautiful St. Saviour’s church in Knightsbridge, and is well worth a visit for the sake of checking out a unique space as well as to experience the community St. Saviour’s has admirably sought to create for artists. St. Saviour’s offers workshop space for performers, and runs its own professional grade and youth theatre on its premises. Their youth theatre’s current production is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello entitled Ring of Envy, written and directed by the theatre’s artistic director, Darren Raymond.

Ring of Envy regurgitates the characters and relationships of the original, and borrows the overall theme of jealously, but fails to capture the psychological warfare that is the crux of its inspiration. Shakespeare’s tale of the Moor of Venice is a complicated, racially charged intrigue following the downfall of Othello, a military hero whose life, marriage, and reputation are destroyed when a trusted friend, Iago, conspires to ruin him. In Intermission Theatre’s reworking, the play is relocated to a teen boxing club. I found this adjustment curious and not particularly poignant – the choice of setting seemed random, never earning its justification during the production. In this reimagining, Othello, a prized but underprivileged boxer, has fallen in love with the owner of the club’s daughter, Desdemona. Friend and fellow boxer, Iago, sets out to break the couple up as a favour to another boxer. What follows are scenes of teen angst, partying, and a lackluster attempt to bring Othello into the contemporary. Additionally on the setting, all of the action takes place inside the ring, which is higher than the audience seating, and the ropes around it unfortunately restrict viewing.

Particularly hard to stomach was the way the revised script invoked the artistic language of Shakepeare one minute, and in the next casually observed something to the effect of “You don’t take a girl to Nando’s unless you’re sure she’ll have sex with you”. I won’t claim that’s a direct quote, but close – I think the original was more vulgar, but admit I can’t recall the exact phrasing, so won’t try. It’s not so much the subject matter as the presentation that I found offensive – it often felt, unfortunately, like Shakespeare’s script had been cut up and excerpts had been dropped in a hat to be drawn out and preserved in the text of Ring of Envy at random. These contextless chunks were then linked together by modern language allowing Raymond to manipulate the story to fit his concept.

I don’t want to completely disregard the effort of the writer and company in reshaping Othello, however, the final product would have been better served if a definitive choice had been made between preserving the original language or creating a work inspired by and following the plot of Othello while using completely original and contemporary language. Either choice would have made for a more cohesive and less confusing viewing experience. Essentially, the combination of the two felt lazy, producing a sloppy, half-hearted ghost of Shakespeare’s script as opposed to the desired energetic and youthful revitalization.

Complaints on choices for the revision aside, many performances stood out as genuine and entertaining despite the difficult script. Ring of Envy utilized two casts; I attended a performance of “The Red Corner” performing November 1, 3, 7, 9, 15, 17, while “The Blue Corner” performs October 31, November 2, 8, 10, 14, 16. Some actors appear in both, including the organic and appreciatively down-to-earth Cory Hippolyte as Cassio, and former boxing champion Julius Francis as Frank, the gym’s owner. For The Red Corner, Baba Oyejide’s Iago stood out, delightfully capturing the insidious, manipulative nature of his Shakespearian ancestor, foiled by the adorably foolish Joshua Okusanya as Rico.

While I appreciate and admire the mission of St. Saviour’s and the Intermission Youth Theatre, I can’t recommend this particular production. I do look forward to continuing to support their efforts to engage a community and young people in the arts, and certainly wouldn’t discourage potential audience members from taking a chance on this unique and socially-conscious company in the future.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Ring of Envy runs at the Intermission Theatre until 17th November 2012.
Box Office: 020 7581 4620 or book online at .

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