Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Othello

William Shakespeare, adapted by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Produced by Frantic Assembly and The Theatre Royal Plymouth in collaboration with The Royal and Derngate, Northampton.
Royal Theatre, Northampton
(2008)

Publicity photo

Certainly, you may have never seen Othello presented in such a way - and it may be some time before you experience a version brought up-to-date like Frantic Assembly's offering at The Royal in Northampton.

Whether the modernising context of a Northern Working Men's club really works is debatable. I have changed my opinion like the wind and I think that the audience will have the same relationship with the setting as they do with Marmite they will either love it or hate it.

In my mind, there are far too many holes in the chopped up, re-set, re-jigged version to make it fully successful. It felt as though the company had dreamed up the working man's club idea and then fit the other parts in or around the initial concept.

With the Moor as a 'gang leader' and Brabantio as a mullet-headed drunk, you never really got the sense of their esteem or power. At the end of the performance, it was difficult to feel any kind of sympathy for the characters. Did I empathise with Desdemona or feel Othello's burning jealousy? Not really.

Perhaps it was Frantic's choice to 'do' Shakespeare as a way of 'appealing to a wider audience' as they put it. The audience that I shared the performance with were not very wide - a majority of teenagers or early 20-somethings who screamed and shouted delighted approval at the end of the performance.

Whether it is a wise choice or not is debatable. For me, Frantic's real strength is in their ability to devise exciting, energetic, clever movement. Moreover, there were excellent examples of this in Othello. The drunken dance, where the company leaned and swayed as Cassio became more inebriated was brilliant.

There were other strong physical sequences - the planting of the handkerchief built up to a strong crescendo and the Iago/Cassio sequence with two caps, gave a new dimension to the choice 'Chav' costume.

In fact the Iago and Cassio pairing was a strong one. Charles Aitken especially created a committed and convincing Iago - his Machiavellian smile added a slightly comic, sinister side to the character.

Other strengths included Laura Hopkins' design. The concertina affect of the moving walls was clever and allowed some moments to jump off the stage and draw in the spectator. This coupled with Gareth Fry's sound design and the fast-paced soundtrack of Hybrid was especially affective in the strong movement sequences.

So, a mismatch, a mix-up that promises much, yet never really convinces. I cannot help wondering whether Othello was a case of biting off far too much than this normally brilliant company could chew.

"Othello" plays at the The Royal and Derngate in the Royal Theatre until Saturday 18th October.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Lyric, Hammersmith

Reviewer: John Johnson