Friday, November 07, 2008
Othello at the Lyric
There has not been a lot of theatre on here of late because I have been in France for much of last week. This was a theatre-free trip, though I did draw some pretty pictures of leaves and eat a lot of cheese. There may also have been some wine involved.
Idyllic as all that was, I came back eager to break my theatrical fast - which I duly did last night by heading over to Hammersmith to take in Frantic Assembly’s modern, urban Othello at the Lyric.
They have taken Shakespeare’s tragedy and relocated it to a rough estate pub in West Yorkshire. This is not an arbitrary choice and it is clear that thought has been taken in finding a contemporary setting that doesn’t jar with the racial dynamics of the play, a modern context into which it can fit. Othello, played by Jimmy Akingbola, is the only black face in a predominantly white working class neighbourhood where rivalries run rife and violent clashes are common. He is simultaneously respected, admired and feared; his colour gives him cache, which is backed by his cool-headedness and confidence. He comes across as a man among boys and one can see why Desdemona was drawn to him, marrying him without her father’s knowledge.
The play has been condensed to less than two hours and is shot through with music and dance, indeed for the first five minutes or so there are no words, just pounding beats and writhing bodies. For the most part the dance compliments the feel of the production, even the danced fight scenes don’t stick out as much as they usually do, though, as ever, the participants look far more like dancers than fighters. There was also a brief bit of onstage up-sicking though nothing like as dramatic as the barfing in God of Carnage.
Though the production has undoubted energy, not everything works. A handkerchief feels like a very odd thing for a chap like Othello to give to his girlfriend – was there no way this could have been updated? They have no problem having Desdemona say “fuck, it’s my dad,” when their pub toilet coitus is interrupted by her father.
I did like the way Claire Louise Cordwell’s Desdemona fought and kicked and struggled against her fate, but the bloody end scenes veered towards the excessive and ended up feeling rather silly. Half the cast took their bows splattered with stage blood. Iago, played by Charles Aiken, also remained a bit too opaque. But despite some problems the production had a power and a drive to it: real effort had been taken to make Shakespeare’s world connect with a modern setting.
The time whipped by (unlike, say, A Disappearing Number, a production of a similar length but one that just dragged on and on) and the piece left a definite impression.