Saturday, 3 January 2009

OTHELLO


15/11/08. Lyric Hammersmith. Matinee
1hr 50 mins, no interval (including substantial bits of dance/movement/mime)
Frantic Assembly

A stripped-down version set in a pub (“The Cyprus”) with pool table in the middle of the stage, the characters members of a gang and their girls. Othello established in dumb show at the start winning “respect” and leadership, as well as Desdemona (a splendidly suggestive moment as she chalked the end of his black pool cue, held out in front of his crotch, blowing the excess dust from the end).
A fine ritualised dance/fight with pool cues and baseball bats and Stanley knives instead of swords. Yorkshire accents (except for O, the outsider, who spoke London black patois), trainers, hoodies and shell suits.
Pounding music and a constant FX track (distant street sounds mainly) which I noticed cease only once, when O has murdered D and total silence falls, on stage and off (a lot of teenagers in, but this production held them).
The translation to a modern gangland setting worked OK. Soldiers are just members of government-sanctioned gangs; both are obsessed with hierarchy, status, “place”, “reputation”. Cassio in this reading becomes a more plausible and more interesting figure than I remember. Rodrigo’s assault on him (in the pub car park) makes better sense.
There were other pluses. Desdemona and Emilia in the ladies, sharing a spliff and discussing “these men”. The pub walls, which separated to reveal the car park from time to time, were a series of flexible panels: when O has murdered D he backs against the wall, which flexes and gives as he leans on it, tossing him from side to side, his world literally collapsing around him.
Problems. Some of the plot essentials don’t work in this updating: D telling her father that O is now her husband and she owes him her duty: even in the hierarchical world of the gang, would the leader’s girl desert her father for him? (Maybe, on reflection, she would…)
Jimmy Akingbola was too young for O and too shouty, not at home with the verse, reciting rather than inhabiting it. Contrast Iago and also Desdemona, who was attractively feisty, not the drippy goody-goody she sometimes comes across as.
Some of my favourite lines had to go: “As acerb as the coloquintida…”, “Say that in Aleppo once…”
And in this version O had too little time to establish himself as noble and na├»ve, proud and pugnacious; he lacked nobility and the pride was inadequately sketched, so his sudden tumble into jealousy seemed implausible – though it was well done when it came.
The girls said they were moist-eyed by the end. I was unmoved but not unadmiring.

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