Othello (2014): Frantic Assembly, Theatre Royal, Plymouth
CAST INCLUDED: Leila Crerar (Emilia); Mark Ebulue (Othello); Steven Miller (Iago); Kirsty Oswald (Desdemona).
This was a revival of Frantic Assembly's 2008 production of Othello, with a primarily new cast. Touring to venues around the UK, including Plymouth, Doncaster, Birmingham and the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith (14 January - 7 February 2015) and played at the Oxford Playhouse from 21 - 25 October 2014. Production information taken from reviews and Theatre Record; may be incomplete.
"Purists may complain that a lot is missing from Frantic Assembly's take on Othello. For though the words are Shakespeare's, heavy trimming means aspects of the play's grandeur and weight are lost. But this is a fierce, exciting Othello. With a propulsive yet at times opulent soundtrack by electronic musicians Hybrid, it delights in a swirling physicality that owes a good deal to the head rush and hedonism of club culture. It's not set in stately Venice but in a tough pub in a tired Yorkshire suburb. The performers bounce off Laura Hopkins's grungy scenery, brandishing beer bottles and darting to the loo for gossip or other forms of refreshment. This is a fractured community in which aggression and horseplay are the norm, and director Scott Graham suggests the tribalism that lies behind the characters' thuggery. Mark Ebulue brings gruff muscularity to the title role and Kirsty Oswald makes an interesting gobby yet appealing Desdemona." ~ Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard, 15 January 2015.
"This Othello smashes you in the face like a broken bottle. Even before it begins hard pounding music spills out from the auditorium into the theatre foyer. Once inside the stage looks like a seedy bar complete with pool table, leatherette banquette and flashing fruit machine. A board proclaiming Karaoke Night reveals that Shakespeare's classic is not to be set in Cyprus but in a pub of that same name. The play explodes into action not with Shakespeare's words but with a stylised highly-choreographed masque which mines, with athletic ferocity, an animalistic crop-topped hoodie culture. This Othello is the leader of a street gang whose physical prowess is beyond dispute in the bar-room brawls and gang warfare in the pub carpark. The atmosphere is charged with menace. Casual violence explodes periodically from below the surface. This is physical theatre at its most potent. Large sections of the text have been replaced by schematised movement. It brings an aggressive sensuality as well as chilling threat....It is a stripped down Othello which cuts more than half of Shakespeare's text. As a result the play moves with tremendous speed and force, telling a story of sex, jealousy and violence which is utterly compelling. There is a price to pay for all this raw power and visceral vigour. The mean misogynistic world it creates, with its own reductive rules and rituals, makes the action of the play inherently plausible. But it robs the play of its poetry and depth. Steve Miller gives a stark performance of casual cruelty but his Iago offers low cunning rather than psychological subtlety. Mark Ebulue's muscular Moor lacks mystique or majesty; his Othello is a primal screamer rather than a tragic hero. Yet peopling the play with tough underclass characters pays dividends elsewhere. The women are not simpering cyphers but feisty fighters struggling against the odds in a macho male-dominated world....Director Scott Graham, and movement director Eddie Kay, make spectacular use of slow motion in both fights and the binge-drinking scene in which Cassio (Ryan Fletcher) becomes a nicely-understated drunk. There are some imaginative gymnastic effects in Othello and Desdemona's courtship, love-making and deathbed scenes, all on the pool table." ~ Paul Vallely, Independent, 15 January 2015
"Set in a West Yorkshire pub called the Cypress, the show starts with an exhilarating 10-minute dance sequence that outlines the backstory of brawls,booze and sex in a way that rivals anything in West Side Story. After that, we settle into a shredded version of Shakespeare's text that, however skilful, never quite matches the physical excitement of the opening. The idea, broadly, is that Othello is a powerful local gang leader who excites the racist inclinations of his treacherous sidekick, Iago. Even if the story fits the context surprisingly well, it throws up some palpable oddities: it is hard to accept Othello's vision of the 'gentle' Desdemona when we've first seen her chewing the end of his pool cue, while the bookishly effete Cassio - 'a great arithmetician' - is here a menacingly surly Scotsman. But the best features of Scott Graham's production are very good indeed. Laura Hopkins has created a brilliantly plausible pub set, with pool table, fruit machine and bendy walls that at one point accurately evoke Cassio's drunken delirium. Mark Ebule's Othello has a muscularity and vocal power that suggests he deserves a crack at the full-scale title..." ~ Michael Billington, The Guardian, 16 January 2015
"It is more than six years since Frantic Assembly's cut-and-choreographed version of Othello was first seen here; however, as every day's news reports confirm, racism never grows stale. And when the age band of characters and players is narrowed and every figure is working class, race is the only differentiator, the only conspicuous driver of Iago's malignity against his 'commander'. No formal military structures here, either; instead of being set in Cyprus, this version takes place in the Cypress, a seedy northern English urban pub, with the army now simply a gang....Mark Ebulue's Othello seems to be trying to retain control of his own movements, and when he finally gives in to his insecurities, it is Iago on whom he unleashes himself." ~ Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times, 17 January 2015
"Iago's machinations play out over a pool table in a grubby pub with a slot machine flashing in the corner. It works well, distilling the bristling rivalry of the original into a bleak, modern-day Britain populated by a disaffected younger generation and shadowed by racism. The cast thoroughly ground their characters in the burnt-out reality of their circumstances, in which acceptance of Mark Ebulue's powerful, quick-tempered Othello is tentative and fragile." ~ Tom Whicker, Time Out London, 20 January 2015
"What works very well with Shakespeare is speaking his verse with a northern accent and the flat Yorkshire vowels sound much better than the usual southern tones. Steven Miller's Iago and Kirsty Oswald's Desdemona are particularly thrilling, but Mark Ebulue's Othello is much less clear." ~ Aleks Sierz, Tribune, 23 January 2015