The use of set was ingenious.
We all know Shakespeare’s plays. Othello, perhaps slightly lesser-known, is a tragedy set in Cyprus during the Ottoman–Venetian War (1570–1573).
This version of Othello at Curve by Frantic Assembly, however, was set in a modern, run-down bar with a bunch of thugs and chavs. It's a great modernisation of a Shakespeare classic but kept the script true to the original.
It's a story of love, cheating and treachery.
The play begins with 90s rave music and the cast performs a synopsis of the play through dance and choreographed fighting with some acrobatic movements. This gives the audience a rough idea of the characters and who is dating who. The way they danced and threw each other around was miraculous.
The story then starts with Iago (Joe Layton) our antagonist and Roderigo (Felipe Pacheco) talking about Desdemona (Chanel Waddock). We find out that Othello (Michael Akinsulire) is secretly married to Desdemona (Chanel Waddock), Barbantio (Matthew Trevannion) the General’s daughter.
Iago is a conniving and devious character who plots the downfall of Othello at every chance he can. The play sees him manipulate Othello into believing that Desdemona has cheated on him with Cassio (Tom Gill) by planting her handkerchief on him. This then ends with Othello killing Desdemona out of rage and ordering Iago to kill Cassio. Iago manipulates Roderigo who is aware of his secrets to kill Cassio but ends up being killed himself in the attack.
The end of the play sees Iago’s manipulations and betrayals revealed by his own wife Emelia (Kirsty Stuart). Learning of his mistake, Othello commits suicide and the rest of the characters kill Iago.
There were two scenes for me that stuck out in the first half of the play. The first being the “sex" scene between Othello and Desdemona. Instead of a bedroom and sexual references, they chose to show the intimacy between the two characters through a dance that was beautifully choreographed down to the way he touched her. It felt far more intimate than a sex scene. The chemistry of the two actors was so believable and stunningly carried out.
The other scene that stuck out for me was where the characters get Cassio drunk. This again is almost a dance as they drink shots and pour him more and more drinks. They toss him around the set as if he were a feather and then as he appears to be really drunk, he stumbles and his drunkenness is illustrated through the movements of the set. It looked exactly how it feels to be drunk, which was just brilliantly done. The use of the set in this way was genius.
The best scene for me, however, was the ending. It has you on the edge of your seat. It was truly thrilling. At one point, the whole audience gasped at the shock as Iago furiously attempts to kill his wife Emelia for revealing his deceptions. Prior to this scene, we see the emotional demise of Desdemona. Othello strangles her on the pool table. Echoing back to the sex scene, the death was just as intimate and well-choreographed. Othello then joins her on the pool table when he takes his own life, and we see the lovers dead together as the end plays out. The audience was so enthralled with the play that they gave the cast a standing ovation.
The use of the scenery and its movements made it feel alive as if it was a character itself. I also loved the way the cast moved the scenery around while acting with it. For instance, Othello listens to the toilet door as he moves the scenery to show the inside of the toilet with Desdemona and Emelia talking. He then moves it back in the same way as if he was trying to listen to the conversation the whole time. The scenery also moves when Othello realised his actions after killing Desdemona - the set all moves out as if it was gasping itself, making the realisation even more powerful.
The cast’s dancing, fighting and acrobatics were amazing to watch. Every now and then they would go into slow-motion as Iago explained his plotting to the audience. This was a really interesting way to add drama and keeps you captivated by the entire scene. The choreographed dancing and fighting were unbelievable, especially the way they would jump and throw themselves around the set.
The use of lighting (designed by Natasha Chivers, Andy Purves and Matt Whale) throughout the play was also imaginative and immersive. They used it to highlight certain characters and to add drama, especially at the very end. They also used it to illustrate the slowing down of time. I particularly liked the way they lit the bathroom scene. The toilet was a small part of the set, and they only lit this small room making it feel tight and bringing focus to the close friendship between the women. It was also a great way to illustrate a girly gossip session by using the public bathroom a habit that any woman has been a part of.
The performance of the entire cast was magnificent, but Michael Akinsulire’s Othello stood out for his expression and impressive portrayal of emotion through dance and movement. Joe Layton’s performance also stood out for the brilliant portrayal of Iago in his cunning and devious ways. I also thought that Tom Gill’s Cassio was superb through his portrayal of drunkenness and the way he played a chav-like character was spot on. The choreographer Perry Johnson deserves to be congratulated as well as director Scott Graham for this brilliant adaptation of a Shakespeare classic.
I would 100% recommend this play to everyone. It was a masterclass in acting, dancing and display of emotion. We left the theatre in awe. I needed to recover from the ending that was just outstanding with its edge-of-your-seat thrillingness. Even though they used Shakespearian language, I found it quite easy to follow through the cast’s portrayals.
An absolute must-see for everyone.
See Othello at Curve until October 1.