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Othello (Manchester & tour)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Modern twists within Shakespeare’s plays are not unusual and they do make the Bard’s work accessible. Frantic Assembly’s adaptation of Othello works on many levels, but is not without flaws.

This ground breaking theatre company are renowned for their dance elements and their most successful piece Hymns.This innovative production worked so well, because the movement told the story, with minimal dialogue. Therefore, I half expected their version of passion, prejudice and power to be the same.

But, this update of the classic tale contains most of the language with added swear words. To a certain extent, this is very effective, particularly with regards to the setting. A snooker table is used as a platform, a place of seduction and a murder scene. Soldiers are replaced by gangs, complete with hoodies, trackies and brandishing beer bottles and knives.

Setting the play in a Yorkshire pub adds atmosphere as it is suitably claustrophobic. But the problems begin when characters talk of war and ladies in waiting, as it jars with the scenes of binge drinking and drug taking.

West Side Story proves that the best Shakespeare adaptations are those that do something fresh with the text, rather than slavishly delivering the lines, word for word, with nothing new, apart from the dress codes.

There are some admirable elements here though; namely the performances, which are striking. Jimmy Akingbola makes a formidable Othello, complete with a Mohican and booming voice. Charles Aitken is an excellent Iago, as he resists the urge to ham it up, smiling malevolently, controlling all those around him, beautifully.

Claire-Louise Cordwell makes a street wise Desdemona but its Leila Crerar who impresses the most as pawn in the struggle, Emilia. Her conveyance of anger and disappointment at her betrayal is incredibly moving.

Frantic Assembly’s creative choreography punctuates key scenes, but it also feels slightly tacked on this time around. It works wonders during fight scenes but actually slows the narrative during some pivotal moments.

This is a partially successful attempt at adding a contemporary feel to The Moor’s story and the cast certainly lift the concept, helped by the pumping music of Hybrid which veers from movie soundtrack to Club Chav.

The A Level students on the night I attended loved every minute, but, I cannot help thinking that more movement and less chat would have led to a much tighter take on the Bard’s ‘O’.

-Glenn Meads


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