Othello (Frantic Assembly)
By the time we reach the opening line of the play (“Tush, never tell me”) we’ve had more bar room follies than a night at the Vauxhall Tavern, only not quite so camp. This haven of hoodies, hot pants and cheap stripey wallpaper has a flashing fruit machine where Jimmy Akingbola’s shaven-haired (with a Mohican brush), street-fighting Othello punches out his frustrations when he’s not punching out other people’s faces.
As the leader of a Turk-bashing gang, you can just about see how this muscular, glowering African Yorkshireman might be a plausible leader of racist thugs, but it’s quite a stretch. Everything Frantic Assembly does in the show ranges from good to brilliant as long as it’s not too much Shakespeare. Out the window goes statesmanship, along with sea-going travels among the cannibals and anthropophagi; Desdemona chalks Othello’s cue for the simplicity of his appeal and swaggering.
The pool table is their marriage bed, their work-out space, the focus of Cassio’s drunken distraction as Iago tightens the snare and the scene of the main crime. Claire-Louise Cordwell’s coarse and flagrant Desdemona prepares for her nemesis in the lavatory, smoking a joint with Leila Crerar’s increasingly hysterical, horrible Emilia.
The action is underpinned by the constant, throbbing soundtrack of Hybrid’s electronic dance music which erupts portentously to match the story line and fuels the big dance and fight sequences that are the show’s main glory. The climactic trajectory of the verse and the great fifth act speeches are obstacles to be surmounted by the physical gesture of a reverse strangulation on the green baize.
Charles Aitken’s Iago is a forceful presence, making his campaign of “wife for wife” totally clear, driven by misconstrued jealousy, while Jami Reid-Quarrell’s Cassio and Richard James-Neale’s Roderigo have their moments. Designer Laura Hopkins’ restrictive boozer has a wonderful ability to contract and fold like a concertina for the few outdoors scenes.
- Michael Coveney