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Othello – The Curve, Leicester

Reviewer: Kerrie Walters

Writer: William Shakespeare

Adaptors: Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett

Director: Scott Graham

First staged in 2008, Frantic Assembly are venturing out with their first show post-pandemic with a fan favourite, Othello. Set in a West Yorkshire pub called The Cypress, the show explodes into life with an exhilarating 10-minute sequence outlining the backstory of sex, booze, and brawls. The visual storytelling on display is sharp and contemporary without ever losing the essence of the story itself. Then, as we settle into the narrative of the show, we observe an adapted version of Shakespeare’s original text whereby Othello is the leader of a powerful local gang who unwittingly excites the racist tendencies of his sly sidekick, Iago.  

The setting of an estate pub works well in terms of narrowing the world of the characters. We see the pool table take centre stage as the power struggles unfold. It is the physical manifestation of the turf war but also doubles as the marital bed and eventual crime scene. Private conversations happen in the filthy ladies’ toilets, the Venetian sea skirmishes take place in the car park and broken beer bottles and baseball bats replace the knives and bright swords of Shakespeare’s text. Laura Hopkins’ set is excellently thought out with its pool table, toilet blocks and cleverly at one point bending walls as we observe the delirium of Cassio (Tom Gill). The way in which the set has been put together plays beautifully against the choreography as it slides in a range of slow-motion sequences and postcard freeze frames emphasising the rapid build of events to the inevitable destruction laid bare in the final scene. The set appears to slide and melt away as the narrative pounds on at pace. 

Scott Graham has put together a gritty and visually robust production. Nine actors take on ten roles in a creatively compressed adaptation by Graham and his then creative partner Steven Hoggett. In cutting the smaller parts and adapting the narrative in this recognisable modern space, they have created a sense of urgency, in which Iago’s manipulations are amplified as he takes on the role of puppeteer. Joe Layton is excellent in the role of Iago, he physically looms over most of the cast which adds an additional layer of sleaze to his backbiting, and he uses every ounce of his physicality to manifest his character’s cruelty. 

Michael Akinsulire is powerful in the titular role. He is a towering figure, masculine and muscular, effortlessly dominating the performance space. He manoeuvres well within the realms of gentle giant and ferocious murderer. He stands apart from the rest of the cast, thoughtful and statesman-like, naturally lavishing his attention on Desdemona as opposed to the lads in the group. This makes his decline into barbaric jealously even more shocking and saddening to observe. The subtlety of his physicality is excellent as his slow, considered movement turns to quick bestial ferocity. In the intimate studio space, his wild jealousy is palpable, his breathing quickens, and his eyes are wild, making the audience feel every minor switch. The duet sequences between Akinsulire and Waddock (Desdemona) are breathtaking to watch. He towers over her tiny frame and as the effect and disconnects are landed; the resulting movement is so fluid and emotive that the audience cannot help but be drawn into their love story, and tragedy. 

While this adaptation works very well, there are some juxtapositions that jar a little for the audience. For example, Othello envisions Desdemona as gentle and meek, yet she is extremely assertive in her physicality, sexually provocative, stamping, and commanding at various points in the show. Whilst Othello most certainly views her as weak, Chanel Waddock portrays a confident, sensual, and self-assured Desdemona who fights the injustices of the story until her very last breath.  

Inevitably, the main draw of any Frantic Assembly show is the movement, and Graham, along with Co- Choreographer Perry Johnson has done an excellent job. They have really encapsulated the bubbling testosterone and latent aggression needed in this piece. The movement underpins every scene in an inventive and accessible way. A combination of balletic dance, mime and martial arts-inspired holds and lifts are exciting to watch and appear to defy the laws of physical movement.  The transitions from dreamy, light half-paced sequences to the brutal assaults in the car park scenes are stark, often drawing audible gasps from the audience. The ability to put a pin into your own work and burst the bubble of the world that you have just created takes enormous skill and this company has it in spades. With an age guidance rating of 14+, this show is an adaptation done right. It is an excellent introduction to Shakespeare, and brings the text to life in a vibrant, albeit barbarous way. 

Runs Until 1 October 2022 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Brutal and brilliant!

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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