Like The Merchant of Venice, with its profound antisemitism, and the misogynistic Taming of the Shrew, Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays for a contemporary audience. Racism is commonplace among the characters and there are lines that leave a deep sense of discomfort. Add to this, the perils of misinformation and kneejerk over-reaction to triggering and it is clear that Shakespeare’s play, more than 400 years old, is not only vitally relevant to our times but also, more than any other in the canon, one that should resonate with a younger audience.
Set largely in the back room of a scuzzy pub, we are from the start immersed in the world of gangland Britain. Othello opens with a trademark montage, the most effective in the production, which combines acrobatic dance, sometimes in slow motion, with precisely fluid choreography and underlines where the power lies and the relationships between the characters. Movement in this and throughout the play is flawless; the acting less so, with too many lines delivered staccato or unintelligibly and death scenes that prompt the audience to laugh, albeit a little awkwardly. This is in part because Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett have compressed the plot into less than two hours with an interval. There is no time for Iago’s worm-in-the-brain allegations about Desdemona to build and Othello’s immediate acceptance of them seems ridiculous.
Nevertheless, Joe Layton captures perfectly all the coldly lethal envy of Iago while Michael Akinsulire is imperious as Othello, gulled, raging and finally repentant. Among others in the cast, Kirsty Stuart and Hannah Sinclair Robinson are outstanding as Emilia and Bianca, while Felipe Pacheco is hilarious as an extraordinarily whiney Roderigo. There is a great deal more humour than one has come to expect from Othello and even if the laughter is not always expected – or appropriate – it helps to alleviate the impact of the play’s overwhelming toxic masculinity, manifest in domestic violence of the worst kind, slut-shaming, bullying and cowardice. With this welcome revival of their 2008 production, last seen in 2014, Frantic Assembly deliver a visceral and violent Othello that is astonishingly contemporary and, for an audience not overly familiar with Shakespeare and the stage, an immediately engaging and compelling piece of theatre.
Review by Louise Mazzini
Frantic Assembly presents its award-winning and electrifying take on Shakespeare’s tragedy of paranoia, sex and murder.
Othello’s passionate affair with Desdemona becomes the catalyst for jealousy, betrayal, revenge and the darkest intents.
Frantic Assembly takes Shakespeare’s muscular and beautiful text, combines its own bruising physicality, and presents an Othello firmly rooted in a volatile 21st century. This is a world of broken glass and broken promises, of poisonous manipulation and explosive violence.
As relevant today as it ever was, Othello exposes the tension, fear and paranoia buried beneath the veneer of our relationships and how easily that can be maliciously exploited.
19 Jan – 11 Feb 2023