Writer: William Shakespeare.
Adaptor: Scott Graham and Stephen Hoggart.
Director: Scott Graham
The Liverpool Playhouse is abuzz with energy, as the thronging crowd take their seats for the opening night of Frantic Assembly’s Othello. The stalls are filled with chatter, excitement and anticipation as the audience, ranging from first time theatre visitors to us old hands, prepare for two hours of Shakespeare, the frantic way!
The lights dim, the audience hush, and not a word is uttered in the crowd until the house lights come up for the interval – don’t you just love it when a show has that power? As the music pulsates the ensemble performers execute a highly complicated choreographed prologue, setting the scene, telling the backstory.
Anyone who is familiar with Shakespeare’s Othello knows that this isn’t the same play of old. The army base in Cyprus becomes the Cyprus pub, and it’s inhabitants are involved in a very different kind of war, a war where baseball bats are used to crack skulls and that the Cyprus pub, their headquarters, must be guarded at all cost. Over a pool table in the back room, relationships are born, confessions are whispered, debts accrue and deals are made. Frantic Assembly once again prove themselves to be the UKs leading physical theatre company, and that’s just in the first five minutes of the performance.
The nine strong cast are slick and well rehearsed; it’s a fast paced energetic rollercoaster of a show with the cast playing not only their character role but the physical ensemble, there’s barely time for breath but their focus never wavers. Michael Akinsulire takes on the challenging title role, he looks every part the general to this army of ne’er-do-wells, physically dominating the scene each time he enters the pool room. Chanel Waddock plays Desdemona, a brassy, strong willed interpretation of Othello’s love interest, a woman with a boldness to match the general of any army. In contrast to Othello, who wears his heart on his sleeve, Joe Layton’s well crafted Iago is conniving, cunning but layered with moments of cowardice as he conspires Othello’s downfall. The role of Iagao’s stooge, Roderigo, is played by local actor Felipe Pacheco. Alumni of the Young Everyman Playhouse, Pacheco does his city proud in his talented portrayal of the conflicted, naive young soldier, taken in by Iago’s malevolent lies. The entire cast puts on a solid, potent performance.
The Cyprus Pub appears onstage thanks to Laura Hopkins’ creative set design skills. The moving, flexible set works seamlessly to create the small world that these characters inhabit. Hopkins’ design manages to make the world of the pub seem small, at times claustrophobic, whilst giving the actors the room they need to – quite literally – throw themselves about, while Hybrid and Gareth Fry’s soundtrack and sound design pump through the speakers creating an air of pulsating tension and angst.
Shakespeare’s work is too often considered flowery, elite, poetic; Frantic Assembly have made it brawny, dirty and ill-tempered but at the same time tantalisingly irresistible. As the lights snap to blackout at the end of the show, the audience collectively exhale, realising in unison that they have been holding their breath. After the applause fades the chatter explodes in the auditorium as the crowd try to make sense of their feelings about what they have just witnessed.
As always, the staff at the Liverpool Playhouse are superbly helpful and, as ever, proud to welcome the audience to this wonderful, historic venue. They must be recognised in making this evening not just a show, but an event. Allow them to welcome you through the Playhouse’s door to see Othello this week. It will definitely be worth your while.
Runs until 8th October, then touring