Frantic Assembly’s inimitable style gets great results in their acclaimed version of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Director Scott Graham’s production manages to please those who love the text and those new to it. A brisk, clear edit makes the play approachable, while the company’s dedication to physical theatre offers insight for those who have seen the play many times.
Famous moments are, mostly, present and correct. Omissions are interesting (Othello’s fit doesn’t happen) while the military setting is loosely applied. But themes of jealousy and revenge are presented with startling clarity. The brisk action creates momentum, while the poetry is still delivered with satisfying technique.
Michael Akinsulire takes the title role and gives a magnetic performance with plenty of threat that is careful to preserve the character’s intelligence. You believe Othello is a good leader and strategist despite the way he is manipulated. Akinsulire’s is a generous performance that benefits from the show highlighting other roles to great effect.
The three female roles of Bianca, Emilia and Desdemona are strengthened by strong performances from Hannah Sinclair Robinson, Kirsty Stuart and Chanel Waddock. Desdemona’s final scenes are distressing to watch but it seems preferable that all three women put up a fight (quite literally in Waddock’s case). Graham’s detailed work with Joe Layton’s laddish Iago is insightful – there’s less sense than usual that he enjoys his plotting, which makes him all the more frightening. As for the dupes Iago uses: Felipe Pacheco’s Rogrigo adds humour while Tom Gill’s scene as the drunken Cassio is brilliant.
The key to the success of Gill’s tricky Act Two Scene Three is movement. It isn’t just that the extended acrobatic dancing makes more sense of his inebriation than a glass or two of wine – who wouldn’t get dizzy – the machismo enacted creates the air of intoxication. The technique works superbly in scenes of violence as performers pose aggressively or weave around and over each other. And the choreography is also excellent for scenes of romance – this Othello is sexy.
For all this praise for those working hard on stage, the star of the show might be designer Laura Hopkins. Setting nearly all the action in a bar (you can almost feel the sticky floor) leads to the production’s memorable pool table, more leapt on and over than played upon. The walls, which concertina in and out, creating corners perfect for plotters, are used to fantastic effect. The combination of style with substance makes this production a winner.
Until 11 February 2023
Photos by Tristram Kenton