In the last of my years at secondary school, back in 2009, I remember seeing posters for a sexy version of Shakespeare’s Othello and being instantly intrigued by the poster involving two people sprawled across a pool table. I never acted upon this intrigue and unfortunately didn’t go and see the show back then, however, to my luck, Frantic Assembly’s revival of their take on Othello meant that I finally got my chance to see it.
Having, incidentally, avoided finding out the story of Othello in the time between then and now I went into the Nuffield with an open mind and no prior knowledge of the plot. For an English graduate you may find this hard to believe, however it did make my viewing experience all the more visceral. Surrounded by school children who must be studying the play I felt an odd sense of naivety in not knowing anything about the plot. However, having studied Shakespeare and his language in depth, the viewing experience was something to shout about.
To describe this production of Othello in one word I would reach towards the word ‘passionate’. Frantic Assembly’s production of the Shakespearean classic fuses the beauty of Shakespearean language with the elegance of choreography; throughout the show the grittiest fight scenes are transformed into something so delicate in their precision that you notice the measurement in each twist and turn and thrown punch. This elegance is juxtaposed with the hard-hitting set and costume. Set in a grotty pub, with the cast donning their finest tracksuits, this version of Othello is like no other; a poignant reinvention of the classic for a 21st century audience. The key elements of this production is the detail. From the fruit machine, to the ambient barking dogs, right down to the eyes constantly following Desdemona around the pub the production portrays the animalistic nature and tribal loyalties of white, working class men. Through the blood and broken glass Frantic Assembly have gleaned the grittiness of the original play and altered it for a modern audience.
The fantastic cast all have regional accents – northern English accents as well as Scottish – yet their pronunciation of the original Shakespeare is not tarnished by the fact they’re not speaking in RP. The chemistry between characters such as Othello and Iago is unrivalled. Iago’s front of stage monologues shine through as moments of brilliance and also moments of clarity for those that struggle with Shakespearean language. It is sometimes difficult to go along with the story when you are struggling to understand the language but the production’s visuals are as much of the plot as the original play script. The character interaction and innovative set changes all add towards a phenomenal production that is well executed and by the sounds of the cheers at the close, very well received.
Overall the cast and creative team have produced an innovative and passionate adaptation of Shakespeare’s original play that turns tradition on its head and moves the classic story forward in new and exciting directions.
For more information on Frantic Assembly and for the rest of the Othello tour dates, head here.