Othello (Gullivers - Northern Quarter, Manchester)
In this new production of Othello, the power shifts to world of football. But does it work?
The first thing you notice about this production of Othello is they are almost all wearing football shirts. In a new twist Lass Productions has set Othello in a football club. Shakespeare is constantly being set in different settings and often it can bring a whole new angle to a play, but with this version it just doesn't work. Without the programme notes, you would probably just wonder why the hell they are all wearing sports kit.
Having read the programme notes other questions are raised; If Emilia is the physio why is Desdemona her mistress and why is she making her bed? Othello is the manager of the team, but why does the club President want Cassio midfield no.7 to take his place? And why are they in Cyprus anyway? Then, there are whole speeches on battles that the cast, mainly Montano and Gratiano, have to rush through. The choice of setting seems plucked out of the air and irrelevant to the script.
Once you stop trying to work out the connection it is possible to enjoy the play. Liam Grunshaw's Iago is sinister and thuggish in equal measure. Morag McLean Peacock is magnificent as Emilia, one of Shakespeare's finest female characters. As she finally looks at Iago and realises what he has done there is real venom in her voice as she tells him she will never go home.
And Francene Turner is perfect as the young Desdemona. It is heartbreaking to see her go from bouncy teenager in love, to incredulous and wounded and finally silent and withdrawn. George Oluyinka has some good moments as Othello especially as the seeds of jealousy are shown but some of Othello's finest speeches are a little rushed through. There is some light relief as well from Eryl Lloyd-Parry as the clown (here a club mascot) and the stroppiness of Roisin McCusker's WAG Bianca.
Setting Othello in a football club doesn't bring a new insight to the play. With a good cast and a great script, there is no need for gimmicks; it's just a distraction.
Othello runs until 30 September.