Stage Review: OTHELLO at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre

****
There are never many layers to a Shakespeare tragedy: OTHELLO features characters that have tyrannical tendencies, the plot escalates at astonishing speed, there is room allowed for a ripple or two of comedy in the madness of it all, and main characters experience demise at the end.

Have no qualms, this adaptation hits the mark. This retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy is a pool room setting in a rough pub within a rough neighbourhood. Anarchy and aggression is advocated in the electronic dance music and in the behaviour of the young men. The girls are either hanging out or giving chase. The movement is vigorous, the pool cues are used in rhythmic terms, with choreographed moves where these items are handled and hand and arm locked by players in time with the music.

Characters are true enough in this modern setting, Othello’s passion for Desdomona remains the key. Desdomona is best described as vivacious and popular under Scott Graham’s (Frantic Assembly) direction and Emilia is her loyal friend with a listening ear. Cassio is still handsome, and Iago is, of course, the main antagonist. Othello is as deluded as anyone could possibly be to trust Iago’s word.

The main plot is the creation of a devious scheme by Iago to implicate to Othello that a sexual association is happening between Desdomona and Cassio, and so to betray the trust of the openly jealous, Othello in the horrible web of lies he is weaving.

The subjects’ sex and lust is ever present, much is merely suggestive, with the table top love scene, (later the murder scene) being artfully executed.

The music builds dramatic effect throughout and the performances are energetic. Othello and Iago, are both seen to grow in being more and more edgy and stressed. Iago is a nasty tormentor. All in all this production is a trifle unsettling, and, of course, hugely theatrical and delivered with attitude.

The students in the audience, that had arrived at The Rep in large coach parties, stood up to applaud and whistle loudly to show their appreciation and enjoyment of a piece of stage work which obviously reflects very well the subject(s) falling within their routes of study.

The performance is 1hr 40 minutes long – no interval.

Cast:

Mark Ebulue as Othello, recently of the RSC and a former kickboxer
Steven Miller as Iago – known as Lenny Lyons in Casualty (BBC TV)
Kirsty Oswald as Desdemona – (The Judas Kiss, The Winter’s Tale)
Barry Aird in the roles of Brabantio and Ludovico – (Peaky Blinders BBC, The Shawshank Redemption, West End)
Ryan Fletcher as Cassio, who has previously performed with Frantic Assembly in Beautiful Burnout (2010)
Leila Crerar – Emilia, reprising her role from the original 2008 production
Richard James Neale – Roderigo, reprising his role from the original 2008 production

Featured Image: Kirsty Oswald (Desdemona) & Mark Ebulue (Othello) in Frantic Assembly’s Othello. Photograph by Manuel Harlan

Review by theatre critic, Debra Hall who attended press night of OTHELLO at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Wednesday 12 November

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