This autumn, Frantic Assembly Theatre Company set off on a ten date tour with their version of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Othello. This production began its life back in 2008, was revised for 2014 and has now been updated once more for 2022. We had a chat with Chanel Waddock, who is playing Desdemona, to find out a bit about how a 400 year-old text fits in to our 21st century world.
Hi Chanel. I think the last time I saw your work was on a TV screen in This Is Going to Hurt with the fabulous Ben Whishaw. It must be such a completely different challenge working with Frantic Assembly, who are renowned for their amazing physical theatre and precision choreography. How are you finding it?
Hey! This is my first time working with Frantic Assembly and it has been magic! I first encountered Frantic’s work when one of my secondary school drama teachers showed me some YouTube videos of chair duets (Big up Sandhurst Secondary school and the gem that is Jason Hanlan) I then saw Lovesong, at the Lyric Hammersmith on a school trip, and still to this day it’s one of my favourite pieces of storytelling! From then on I’ve followed all their work, and to now be in a production of theirs is very special, from being the wide-eyed teenager sat in the stalls of the Lyric Hammersmith.
Yes, I guess TV and theatre demand different things and the process is very different. I love how Frantic concentrates on the physical just as much as the vocal. I think the stat is 70-93% of communication is non verbal. Focusing on the physical to enhance, to match and to do justice to the written word of the work has been super exciting. It has been such fun exploring how we conduct ourselves in this world of the pub.
The legend that is Scott Graham [Artistic Director of Frantic Assembly] talks about the three universes of touch; before the touch, the touch and after the touch, an approach to character and storytelling I will definitely be nicking going forward – thanks boss man 😉 . The team really is filled with masters in movement.
Othello is such a classic, respected play, but it has been around for ages – written in 1603! This being a Frantic Assembly production, I take it it’s not a dusty, fusty interpretation? Are you even using Shakespeare’s original text? Tell us a bit about how the production makes the story relevant in a contemporary context.
Yes, we are speaking in Shakespeare’s original text, although I’m sure it may not feel like it to the ear and eye of the audiences sometimes.
I personally enjoy work that reflects the world today socially, politically and undeniably emotionally. As much as Othello was written hundreds of years ago, the story transcends time and Frantic’s version of Othello, set in this claustrophobic pub riddled with hierarchy and the value of reputation, seems to have no expiry date. So many current issues and events feel present in the text and in this production. Thinking about Desdemona – especially in Frantic’s setting, this world of machismo and toxicmasculinity – it got me thinking about the spike in domestic abuse cases being reported during the pandemic; cases of sexual assault and violence against women; records within our monarchy of sexual misconduct and the rank abuse of power within Westminster; the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V Wade and the ramifications that has on women’s bodily autonomy today. I think a play that tackles universal and immortal topics will always have as much life as it once did when it was originally written.
You’re playing Desdemona, one of Shakespeare’s most loved tragic heroines. Is it a big responsibility playing her? And how does it feel to be the woman at the centre of this very masculine story?
I love watching the endurance of people – people coping, people being wobbly, people being misunderstood and how that all manifests. That’s exactly what Frantic’s Othello is, especially for Desdemona – a woman in a man’s world filled with misinformation. I knew I wanted my Desdemona to be bold, bright, brave and ballsy. She is an active fighter and I wanted her fight to be felt.
Of course I needed to honour what the story demanded and required (even though, at moments Chanel the actor didn’t want certain destinies for Desdemona). I think when playing a well known character of Shakespeare’s you have the weight and ghost of people’s ‘interpretations’ that have been done before. I wanted to purge myself of that and put my print and stamp on Desdemona that is bubbling with my authenticity as an artist. The responsibility I felt the most was to represent a strong, multifaceted woman, which felt current and truthful for audiences and specifically young woman watching.
I believe there’s exciting music in the show too; can you tell us a bit about that?
Frantic are a big fan of the musicians Hybrid. Frantic worked with them when they originally did the production in 2008 and the music stayed for the production in 2014 and our current show in 2022.
And you’re going to be touring until February; is this a production that will travel well around different parts of the country?
Yes, we kick started the tour in Leicester, we have now done Liverpool and I’m currently talking to you from Plymouth. We go all over, up and down.
Many thanks to Chanel for taking the time to tell us about this exciting new production, and we wish her and the company well!
Othello is now touring until February 2023. Full tour dates can be found here.