Lyric Presents an Othello for the 21st Century

Penny Flood applauds an entertaining new approach to an old masterpiece

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Frantic Assembly

Lyric Hammersmith

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Lyric Young Company

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The year is 2001, the scene is a scruffy pub in West Yorkshire. Outside there’s a riot, inside the young people gather to play snooker, brawl, drink, flirt and even have sex in the ladies loo.

Forget the fashionable streets of Venice and the war with the Turks, this is Othello for the 21st century.

The number of players has been cut down to 10 and the original script has been trimmed, but not messed around with, so the words are Shakespeare’s original.  And it works. The sub-text of Othello is about love, jealously, paranoia, betrayal, racism and the havoc they can wreak. In that regard nothing’s changed over the centuries.

The acting is terrific, direction is imaginative and slick with clever use of the scenery. The result is a brilliant take on the great, disastrous love story where the embittered, jealous Iago, seeks to bring down Othello using his wife Desdemona as the bait. The play was always more about Iago than Othello and Steven Miller does a great job of bringing him to life playing him as a twitchy, furtive bundle of paranoia and menace. He also makes him charming enough to convince everybody, including Othello, that he’s their friend.

Othello (Mark Ebulue) is solid, serious and oddly insecure when it comes to his young wife, Desdemona (Kirsty Oswald), who has no idea that her flirting is causing her husband so much grief. These are the weaknesses that fuel Iago’s flame as he draws Othello, Desdemona and the other pub regulars into his plot leading to the terrible, breathtaking, heartbreaking end.

Because it’s produced by Frantic Assembly who specialise in physical theatre, there’s plenty of music and dancing intermingled with the story, starting with an exhilarating opening sequence. The choreography’s great, the cast are young, lithe, beautiful and amazingly fit, leaping on and off the snooker table and wielding their cues to the beat of an ultra-loud electronic soundtrack.

However, the dances and the music become repetitive and don’t always work with the story. For music and movement to work in a play they must be in harmony and reflect the various emotions and moods of the narrative. One size doesn’t fit all and great physicality accompanied by techno-thump, which worked so well in the opening, don’t work quite so well elsewhere.

But don’t let that put you off. For anyone new to Othello this could be a great introduction, and for those who know it, it’s an interesting and entertaining new way of looking at an old masterpiece.

Othello continues at the Lyric Hammmersmith until February 7. Book tickets online or call the box office on 020 8741 6850.

January 20, 2015