Direction Scott Graham (originally adapted, directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett)
A cold wet blustery night in Hammersmith and the Lyric is packed (not a press night) with a young audience, loving and getting Frantic Assembly’s Othello.
It speaks directly to them, especially Steven Miller’s Iago: they get him all right, loud and clear. And Hybrid’s driving score: half an hour before the 100-minute no interval production starts, the auditorium is vibrating with heavy electronic sound.
Mesmerizing, energizing, the music, loud and proud multi-track club beats, propulsive, commanding, infiltrates the body; director Scott Graham first grabs your carcass and then your mind.
A thunderstorm in West Yorkshire 2001, but the music is outdoing it inside the Cypress pub with its fruit machine, free karaoke nites, and pool table—doubling as wedding bed—a haven and a court for a tribal bunch of friends, disaffected young guys and dolls, where laughter can turn to violence on the spin of a coin.
Anything is possible: a raid from the enemy, jealousy, rivalry, baseball bats at hand and plenty of drink. Hyped-up jumpy sexist youths in a place so run-down the unstable walls, mirroring unstable minds, shift in the breeze, playing tricks with the eye and the brain.
Plenty of sexual play and innuendo: pool cues wielded like big dicks by bigger horny grandstanding dicks (Othello’s is ebony). The girls know that, but play the game. Desdemona chalks and blows Othello’s cue. Preliminary dumb show choreography tells us all we need to know.
But if you’re bragging, you’re not getting it. Is that Iago’s problem? Not that Cassio has been promoted above him, but that beefcake black ram Othello is tupping a white ewe. That gets the first laugh of the evening. And Roderigo is desperate for it, too.
Always sex and discrimination, and bubbling undercurrents of racism and victimhood, but who is the victim in this case? Are they all victims? Deft manipulator Iago has built a good case against Othello in his own warped mind. Fuelled by a self-righteous anger he can only assuage with blood, a serpent whispering, worming poison into Othello’s ears, all the time professing to be his honest friend.
The young audience clicks with that: how many soaps have these kids seen?—you can hear a pin drop. Scott Graham’s Othello (originally adapted, directed and choreographed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett in 2008 and now reworked) reminds me of Michael Bogdanov taking Shakespeare to young people on inner city council estates in the 1990s. Only connect.
There’s a lot of fists and bottles connecting too—nervy, self-destructive, bottled-up fizzing hormones. The movement is integral and superb. The edited text is clarity itself, more of a superficial swift cut to the chase than a poetic rendering, but well delivered.
Steven Miller holds the stage as a skinny Iago, hungry for he knows not what: a brilliant performance, drawing out those Yorkshire vowels to witty effect, sucking us into his scheme. Soft-spoken Mark Ebulue’s Othello doesn’t stand a chance: he’s outplayed at every turn—a fall guy.
They are all fall guys: Richard James-Neale’s (he does remind me of Adrian Scarborough) Roderigo, Ryan Fletcher’s Scottish Cassio (a wonderful drunk), Leila Crerar’s seen-it-all-before Emilia, and above all the undeserving-to-die Desdemona.
Joint-smoking Kirsty Oswald in blond topknot, crop top, trainers and jeans is a lithe wench, self-aware—dancing with Othello on the table under violet lights she knows her worth—streetwise, but it does her no good.
She and Emilia take council in the dingy Ladies, and Othello meets his end there with a shard of glass to the gut. What a waste: how many young men are dying in stairwells and backstreets because of some misplaced disrespect…
"Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation!" But respect to Frantic Assembly for another tremendous show. And to Shakespeare, of course, who got it so right all those years ago.
Smaller roles are filled by Barry Aird doubling as Lodovico and old lag Brabantio, Dritan Kastrati pads out the gang as Montano, and Nicola Kavanagh with her Croydon face-lift gives good strop as Bianca.
The ending is bloody and tense. Hard man Steven Miller holds it to the end.
Reviewer: Vera Liber