For over a decade, I’ve been promising myself that I would read or see a production of William Shakespeare’s Othello. After all, it is considered one of Shakespeare’s most human plays in which love and hate, jealousy and trust, power and self-destruction play out leading to murder and suicide.
Last night, I was given this opportunity and so (finally) I can cross it off my ‘to do’ list, albeit in a slightly different style than what I’d originally planned all those years ago. This is because this production is set in a pub in 21st century Britain. In the original a Venetian Army are sent to defend Cyprus against the invading Turks; in this production the army is replaced by a gang who drink at their local pub, The Cyprus. Race, sex and socio-economic politics of urban life are also explored.
Othello is a collaboration between the National Youth Theatre and Frantic Assembly. Shakespeare’s text has been adapted by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly. This production is directed by Simon Pittman, Associate Director of Frantic Assembly.
All the actors are members of the National Youth Theatre, the world’s first youth theatre having operated since 1956. It is a charity that inspires, nurtures and showcases talent of young people and increases community engagement by getting youth into theatre, both on stage and behind the screens. Rebecca Hesketh-Smith stared as Desdemona and Mohammed Mansaray as Othello. He seemed stilted in the first half but his acting ability was highlighted during the second half. Jamie Rose as Iago was a stand-out due to his great stage presence, comic timing and ability to capture his character’s duplicities. I believe he will be a face to watch in the future. Curtis John Kemlo as Roderigo conveyed a talent for comic relief.
Given that it’s set in a 21st century pub, Laura Hopkin’s set was simple but effective with a pool table, chairs, tables and beer bottles. As the story develops, the set begins to almost become a character in itself, but I can’t say too much without giving it away for those who may wish to see this fabulous production. The lighting by Amy Mae added immensely to the shabby, edgy, seedy atmosphere of the pub and its surrounding streets. The costumes by Laura Hopkin’s and Jen Gregory also reflected the setting: modern, streetwise, grungy.
The choreography of dance and fight moves were stunning. It conveyed energy and danger and highlighted relationships between characters. Indeed, the “bedroom” scene between Othello and Desdemona was quite powerful. The movement and use of space was superb and seemed to flow flawlessly. Modern up-tempo music also effectively conveyed a modern setting. All these aspects of theatre serve to lift the story into the 21st century.
It’s Shakespeare like you’ve never seen before: gritty, modern, edgy. I’d highly recommend seeing this terrific production.
Othello runs until 8 December 2017 on selected dates with both evening and matineeperformances available. Run time is 2 hours.
Address: Ambassador’s Theatre, West Street, WC2H9ND
Written by Caitlin Neal