Othello (2008): Frantic Assembly, Theatre Royal, Plymouth, Royal and Derngate Theatres, Northampton
CAST INCLUDED: Jimmy Akingbola (Othello); Charles Aitken (Iago); Claire-Louise Cordwell (Desdemona); Leila Crerar (Emilia); Jami Reid-Quarrell (Cassio).
This was a touring production, which played at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth and at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith from 6 - 22 November 2008; other tour dates unknown. Production information from Theatre Record; may be incomplete.
"You will never have seen an Othello quite like this. Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly take a broken bottle to Shakespeare's text and give it an expert gutting. The heart of the play remains intact, and it pulsates bloodily. This is not for Shakespeare purists, but it has undoubted vision and verve. There is plenty wrong with it - music that often swamps the verse, actors who are sometimes more physically than vocally competent, a failure at the climactic moment to ratchet up an emotional gear into genuine tragedy - but a lot is right, too....What is most startling is how effectively and seamlessly the action has been transposed from Venice to the less salubrious setting of a pub in a decaying, northern England working-class town. It is a place with its own distinct rules and male-dominated social hierarchy, where Desdemona and Emilia exchange confidences and fags in the ladies' loo. Here, bouncer Othello's (Jimmy Akingbola) rise to become top dog, snaffling Desdemona from under her father's nose along the way, has created tensions - social, racial and romantic - that Iago exploits....One of the best things about the production is that it gets the details so right; not just in Laura Hopkins's design, with its pool table and slot machine, or the distant thump of disco music and barking dogs in Gareth Fry's sound design, but in the way it excavates the tribal loyalties of young, white, working class men. They swagger around the pool table with a macho grace. There is a terrible animal beauty in their coiled violence and vulgarity, a diseased nobility like lions in a zoo suffering from mange and misdirected aggression." ~ Lyn Gardner, "Pub bouncer Othello ripped apart by working-class wolves", The Guardian, 29 September 2008
"Here is a neat idea: Othello set in today's West Yorkshire, with the Moor as a bouncer in some seedy pub. Desdemona is his gangster's moll, sluttish in one of those tops that show a lot of bare belly and a tattooed back. Othello walks around the place with a pimp roll and a Mohican haircut. The likes of Iago, Cassio, and Roderigo are all local toughs - part of Othello's knife-wielding, pool-playing gang who while away the hours by thumping a fruit machine, drinking alco-pops and groping their strumpets. They also, from time to time, battle with rival gangs. Not so very different to 17th-century European noblemen, perhaps. Shakespeare's plot translates to this seedy modern setting surprisingly well. The Frantic Assembly company, known for highly physical work, seizes the play by its scruff and gets it off to a memorable start with a ballet around, on and over a snooker table. The spectacle is undeniable, particularly when the walls of the pub concertina during set changes. The production is less successful with its characterisation. Much effort goes into presenting the characters as modern types, but we don't learn quite enough about the personal dilemmas they face. The near-ceaseless violence and knee-trembling becomes a little tiresome towards the end, too....Jimmy Akingbola's Othello is clearly a pretty efficient bouncer, but in no way noble. Surely the tragedy needs a dose of that to wring sympathy out of us?" ~ Quentin Letts, "'Ey oop, it's t'Yorkshire Moor...", Daily Mail, 7 November 2008
"A skinhead in a tracksuit, Charles Aitken's Iago has a horrid darting energy and simmering racial hatred. Jimmy Akingbola's combination of swagger and vulnerability, as Othello, is spot on, especially with allusion to his tough childhood." ~ Kate Bassett, "Like the king, this 'Lear' soon unravels", Independent on Sunday, 9 November 2008