Frantic Assembly's Othello Is Explosive And Gripping
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Frantic Assembly’s Othello is Shakespeare how it should be experienced. Forget the days of watching actors in side view, occasionally spitting and standing in hunched profile — which can happen even on our capital’s most illustrious of stages: This is Shakespeare brought into the 21st century alive and kicking. We lay our scene in a run-down pub where egos are fragile, testosterone is high and suspicions breed in the stagnant, beery air.
Frantic are masters of physicality, creating a mesmeric effect for the audience. Director Scott Graham — who has steered this play before, in 2008 — has extracted what is already in the text, from the obsession with lust and reduction of every human connection to that common denominator, and translated it wonderfully into movement. The pool table is the hotbed for power struggles both sexual and physical, as the pub regulars wield pool cues as phallic symbols or weapons. But it’s as much about the subtleties of the details as the overall punchiness of the choreography that makes this work. Iago’s snaking hand creeping round Othello’s neck, or the handkerchief crumpled slowly as if in a magician’s hand, a nod to the earlier verbal insult against the Moor as practitioner of spells. We particularly enjoyed the new slant on Iago as sociopath, as he poignantly shuns a hug from his dupe Roderigo.
Performances also breathe new life. Kirsty Oswald’s plucky, feisty Desdemona is a fresh take for a character who can come across on the page as a bit whiney. Ryan Fletcher’s swarthy Cassio is convincingly the weak politician whose strength is all ‘prattle and no practice’. We’ve also never seen such good drunk acting, which is totally enhanced by the slurred direction as Cassio's cronies weave about downing shots in slow motion.
Laura Hopkins' design works as hard as the choreography to create this nightmarish, dangerous world. In the climatic stabbing scene we are in a bleak urban world. This could be any dodgy side street stumbled into on a horrible January night, the simplicity of smoke and a depressing brick wall familiar connection points for us.
Wandering into pubs like this is not recommended. Wandering into the Lyric to catch this fantastic Othello, on the other hand, is a must. Not since Kevin Spacey's Richard III have we been so entertained and gripped.
Last Updated 16 January 2015