William Shakespeare, adapted by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly
Frantic Assembly, Curve Leicester
Quays Theatre, The Lowry
November 15-19, 2022
The image of Othello and Desdemona sprawled across a pool table has become familiar. This is the third production of Frantic Assembly’s Othello to tour since 2008 and has become this exciting company’s signature production – a must-see, especially for A-level students of drama and English.
Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s reworking of Shakespeare’s tragedy to a contemporary, down-at-heel pub with a pool table and fruit machine, whose denizens are always up for a ruckus, may look a little dated to some of its present-day audience. But the boldness of their innovation survives. It rests in the extreme physicality of its cast – especially in the ensemble set-pieces – which evokes the warfare that is mostly off-stage in Shakespeare, but also informs the more intimate of the production’s characterisations. Othello himself (Michael Akinsulire) is an imposing, muscled figure who convincingly dominates his bellicose but athletic companions. Less prominently, the pathetic gull Roderigo is made a crotch-scratching wannabee of great conviction by Felipe Pacheco.
The energy of the cast, choreographed by the original directors and, for this version co-choreographed by Perry Johnson, along with the insistent soundtrack of mainly electronic dance music designed by Gareth Fry and Hybrid, make it seem almost like a musical.
But it may be that the vivacity of the physical performance has inhibited the speaking of the text. Too many of the cast, including the principals, have failures of diction, which make their words indistinct. It is not a problem of volume, they overcome the show’s general clamour easily enough, but of clarity.
Othello is a play of visceral intensity and this is excellently rendered here, but it is also a play of linguistic subtlety and of verbal persuasion, and this is much less apparent. Iago (Joe Layton) is a man apart, but his intelligence and the sophisticated character of his understated rhetoric is not allowed sufficient attention. Similarly Chanel Waddock’s Desdemona is feisty throughout, a very welcome interpretation, but too often unclear.
Nevertheless we have here a fine rendition of this great play’s salutary moments. The pool table of Othello and Desdemona’s early lovemaking becomes the loaded bed of her murder in a wonderfully-imagined and choreographed strangulation. Othello ’s athletic power seems to physically diminish as he realises first his supposed predicament and then the weight of his error.
There is also a wonderful scenic coup (design Laura Hopkins) in placing the little scene between Emilia (Kirsty Stuart) and Desdemona – "O, these men, these men!" – in the Ladies.
That alone justifies this version’s setting.
Info and tickets here