You know to expect something innovative and amazing when at a Frantic Assembly production and their version of Othello is no exception. We entered the auditorium to loud drum and bass music and were thereby prepared for a street version of a play written 400 years ago.
By Angie Millard
Photos by Tristram Kenton
Violence, sexuality, jealousy, racism and revenge are eternal dramatic themes. This adaptation by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett manages to use Shakespearean language while resetting the play in a pub, on an estate, in Northern England where gang members congregate. The raw violence of their lives rumbles alongside ideas of hierarchy and rigid values which fit perfectly with Shakespeare’s England. Their dialect blends with the rhythms and patterns of the speech enriching the delivery.
Othello played by Michael Akinsulire is muscular, basic in his emotions and perfect for the production. His relationship with Desdemona displays his instinctive power and Chanel Waddock’s Desdemona is an earthy, sparky mate.
So what of Iago? This version of the text is his playground. Joe Layton is a vicious thug but he plays all the other characters with a sly, lightness of touch. His lies and subterfuge seem almost to cause the tragedy by default.
The rest of the cast present a strong ensemble, particularly during the brilliantly executed physical sequences which are used to provide the background to the plot.
The set designed by Laura Hopkins is immensely adaptable, starting as the snooker room of the pub, and changing to the grimy, brick walls at the back of the building or the mucky lavatory where the girls discuss the men in their lives. In the scene where Cassio, played by Tom Gill, becomes drunk, the throwing and pushing of him by the other guys is mirrored by the walls which are made to move in sickening waves.
However, it would be wrong to forget how the poetry of Shakespeare surfaces in the intense, essential scenes. By the final denouement, I was feeling that old catharsis and nobility, so relieved at the resolution, not least because it wasn’t happening to me. From the time that the audience enters to see a pool table, slot machine and dusty crimson wallpaper, they are immersed in the sound track by Hybrid and forget any preconceptions. Before too long, they realise they are experiencing full throttle Shakespeare and loving it.
Apparently, 60 schools have booked to see the show and it was full on the night I went. The cheering said it all. Frantic Assembly’s Education Pack will provide some thought-provoking follow up. The director, Scott Graham, says they began with the book: Dark Heart, The Shocking Truth about Hidden Britain by Nick Davies. The brutal urban world of the book makes the concerns of Othello immediate. He describes us being victims in a post-truth world of misinformation and Iago is the master of just this poisonous practice.
It made me think, maybe Frantic Assembly should revisit their policy of doing new plays and slip in the odd few classics from the early 17th century? I’d vote for Ben Jonson any time!
Othello was performed by Frantic Assembly at York Theatre Royal Tuesday 18 October 2022. The Director was Scott Graham.
Othello – Michael Akinsulire
Mintano – Oliver Baines
Cassio – Tom Gill
Iago – Joe Layton
Roderigo – Felipe Pacheco
Bianca – Hannah Sinclair Robinson
Emilia – Kirsty Stuart
Brabantio/ Lodovico – Matthew Trevannion
Desdemona – Chanel Waddock
Design – Laura Hopkins
Lighting – Natasha Chivers/Andy Purves
Sound – Gareth Fry
Soundtrack – Hybrid
Costume – Alice Mc Nicholas
Co-Choreographer – Perry Johnson
Originally adapted, directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly