Tag Archives: Richard James-Neale

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)



Derby Theatre, Friday 14th December, 2012

‘Tis the season for family shows, in which actors don animal suits and portray anthropomorphised characters.  In Derby Theatre’s Christmas production, designer Jamie Vartan allows the human physiology of the cast to remain evident throughout with some inventive and attractive costumes that, accompanied by charming characterisations from the actors, suggest enough of the creature while reminding us this is a story of human values and concerns.  Richard James-Neale oinks and grunts around the stage in a pastel pink onesie as prized pig Wilbur, Hayley Ellenbrook waddles and shimmies as a goose, and I particularly liked Richard Neale’s Templeton, a rat in a wide pinstriped suit.  Claire Redcliffe stalks around in a remarkable spider costume, with goggles for extra eyes, and stilts for her arms.

E.B. White’s classic story has been transposed to the English West Country in the 1950s, and while some of the names remain noticeably American, the change of location works very well.  It is a simple tale of friendship.  Wilbur the pig befriends Charlotte, a spider in his barn.  Charlotte makes it her life’s work to save the pig from slaughter.  She weaves words gleaned from advertising materials into her web, proclaiming the pig to be ‘terrific’ and ‘radiant’ and so on.  The humans buy into it and Wilbur’s life is saved.  He is feted at the county fair as a prize example of his kind.  It is a neat point about the nature of hype, and how P.R. can save your bacon.

The songs are melodious but not all that memorable but they serve their purpose within the piece.  Roger Haines’s direction keeps the action ticking over; the show is never short of lively or engaging.  The changes of tone are handled very well and there are some lovely bits of comic business. The cast change from human to animal characters so effectively you’d think the company was twice the size.

It’s a heart-warming tale of the circle of life and death.  Charlotte is matter-of-fact about her fate, which somehow makes it all the more touching.  I was also reminded of the remarkable strangeness of spiders – but my softening towards their kind only lasted as long as the performance; I still yelped and swore when I got home and found one in the kitchen.

There is also a message about the harsh realities of the farm.  Little girl Fern forms a sentimental attachment to Wilbur because he is the runt of the litter.  It is made perfectly clear he is to be fattened up for slaughter.  I wonder if – and I hope that – some of the children mesmerised by this enchanting production went away with a more enlightened attitude towards the meat on their plates.

The production is uplifting rather than downbeat and deserves to be packed out for every performance. If you happen to be in the hemisphere, get to Derby and support this delightful show.