Tag Archives: Frantic Assembly

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)

Everybody needs good neighbours


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Thursday 13th March, 2014

Bryony Lavery’s new play, created in collaboration with Frantic Assembly is the stuff of horror films.  When their house falls victim to flooding, Joff and Marianne, along with their daughter, are invited to spend the night in the home of neighbours Ollie and Maud, who also have a daughter.  The two girls play together, off-stage and unseen, while the adults get to know each other over a bottle of white rioja and Ollie’s special peanut sauce.  A comedy of manners ensues as Joff and Marianne react to their hosts’ religious convictions in a beautifully played and very funny scene around the dinner table.

The evening takes a turn for the weird long before a terrible life-changing event that stems from Ollie and Maud’s well-meaning plan to ‘cleanse’ their guests’ wayward daughter.

For the most part naturalistically performed, the piece is given a peculiar feel by its pared-down set.  Empty frames form doorways and corners, suggesting different rooms and locations.  Odd angles add an expressionistic element – the actors move the set around in a graceful, choreographed manner and it’s surprising how evocative these sparse lines are, pushing the emotions of the characters to the fore, leaving the audience to imagine things like décor, furniture and objects.

Andy Purves’s lighting design gives a Caravaggio-like appearance to some of the scenes.  With the addition of Carolyn Downing’s design for sound, the lighting gives us a few ghost-train scares.  It’s extremely effective.

Director Scott Graham keeps the action accessible and the people relatable although inhabiting a highly stylised space.  Their gravity-defying suspension on ropes changes our perspective and keeps a sense of ‘otherness’ running through the performance.  Events have thrown these lives off-kilter; the characters are adrift in familiar settings that have become unworldly to them.

Eileen Walsh (Marianne) and Christopher Colquhoun (Joff) are excellent as the ordinary couple overwhelmed by a nightmare, while Richard Mylan (Ollie) and Penny Layden (Maud) keep the weirdo neighbours credible.  Bryony Lavery’s writing is as sharp as ever – there is a kind of poetry to her naturalistic dialogue that is mirrored by the eerie beauty of the production style.

Stark, gripping, funny, inventive and scary, The Believers holds belief up to question in a way that reminded me a little of Dennis Potter’s Brimstone & Treacle, and provides a thought-provoking, entertaining trip to the theatre.


Packing a Punch

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 9th October, 2012

Bryony Lavery’s rather lyrical story of amateur boxing is brought to invigorating life by Frantic Assembly in this new production, doing the rounds (Doing the rounds! Hah! …suit yourselves). Loud music boxes your ears, bright lights assault your eyes, but what is most stunning is the slick, choreographed moves of this tight cast of six. These movements all stem from boxing and the exercises from training in preparation for boxing – the physical fitness of the actors is incredible; they bring a grace and an insistent intensity to the proceedings.

This is the story of shoplifter and car-borrower Cameron who is reformed by becoming a member of the amateur club run by Bobby Burgess (Keith Fleming as a sort of avuncular sergeant major). There, Cameron meets showboat Ajay The Cobra Chopra (Taqi Nazeer), walking Wikipedia Ainsley (Ali Craig), hothead Neil Neill (Matthew Trevannion) and hardnosed female boxer Dina (Margaret Ann Bain). Cameron ducks and weaves his way into the group and soon Burgess is selecting suitable candidates to turn pro.

This gives rise to concern in Cameron’s mother, in a excellent comic turn from Julie Wilson Nimmo. Her relief over her boy finally getting some structure and discipline in his life is replaced by justifiable fear that he will sustain some serious injury. The play’s title tells us tragedy is coming…

Cameron doesn’t quite make it from rags to riches. Stuart Ryan stands out as the young contender who tries to better himself. Not so much flawed as floored.

Technically, the show is dazzling. The music and lights are secondary to the performances of the actors. Directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett use freeze frames and thought tracking to eye-opening effect. Slow motion and a revolving stage add a Matrix-like air to the fight sequences – we are not meant to get caught up in the violence of the match; this is character-led drama and because of this handling, the ending leaves us all the more punch drunk.

A vibrant, slick and tight production. A knockout.