The Moor the Chavvier

Frantic Assembly have revived their acclaimed production of Othello for a tour and though it lacks the charm of a show by Propeller, say, it certainly goes a long way to make Shakespeare accessible and appealing to a young, contemporary audience.

The setting is the Cyprus pub and its environs.  It’s a grubby establishment where you’re just as likely to get a kick in the teeth as a pint of beer.  The patrons sport hooded tops and tracksuits and speak with Northern accents.  It’s like a blank verse episode of Shameless.

The script has been cut to about half of its usual length, stripping the plot to a minimum and keeping the action tightly focussed.  What gets lost is the sense of Othello as a great man.  Here he is thug-in-chief, wielding a baseball bat.  He might be the hardest man in a milieu of hard men but, when all’s said and done, he’s just king of a shit heap.  He hasn’t got far to fall.

Mark Ebuwe is a solid, aggressive Othello but it’s Steven Miller’s Iago who compels, a nasty piece of work.  Miller brings out Iago’s cruelly ironic humour.  Like Cassius in another play entirely, he has a lean and hungry look.  You wouldn’t want to meet him in broad daylight never mind a dark alley.  Richard James-Neale brings a touch of light relief as the bumbling Rodrigo, while Ryan Fletcher’s Cassio gives us a striking study in drunk-acting.  Leila Crerar’s Emilia rises above the general chavviness for a climactic scene of high emotion and horrific violence – director Scott Graham doesn’t stint on the brawling and savagery.  The strangling scene is shocking but almost balletic.  Indeed, there is a lot of gracefulness in this sordid, unwholesome world.  Scenes are broken up by movement sequences in which the physicality of the actors complements the heightened language of the text.  It’s a slick but sometimes uneasy watch, tightly performed by an energetic and committed company.

This treatment ennobles the characters somewhat but what we get is not a sense of inescapable tragedy in which a great man is nobbled by a fatal flaw in his nature but instead we get social commentary: There is no escape from this nasty, dangerous existence and these people don’t even aspire to lift themselves out of the mire.  And that’s a tragedy of a different kind.

Steven Miller as Iago (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

Steven Miller as Iago (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

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