★★★★★ | Othello, Frantic Assembly, Birmingham REP
Mesmerising, Otherworldly, Sublime
Who would have thought that Shakespeare’s “Othello” could be placed in a ‘Chatsworth Estate’ like location, bursting with rawness but, at the same time, realness unlike any other. Frantic Assembly dissects the true essence of the play and transfuses it in to a contemporary setting. Extremely commendable work.
“Othello” is my favourite play by William Shakespeare, but as underrated as it may be to many, it cannot hide the fervour of overcharged emotions that play from minute one. It tells the story of a Venetian moor who is the general of the armies in Venice that marries the daughter of a Venetian Senator, figure of which disapproves of the union. The theme of this play is jealousy, and Iago speaks of this as: “It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on.” Iago is jealous of many things, but in particular Michael Cassio’s promotion to Left Lieutenant by Othello, when Iago has been his long serving ‘slave’. Iago sets about on a mission to deem Desdemona ‘false’ and unworthy of Othello’s love. Iago proceeds in planting the seed of doubt in to Othello’s mind that Cassio and Desdemona are, essentially, at it. It all goes downhill from there, culminating in Othello killing his wife due to the paranoia.
Some say there may be a sub-jealousy theme going on: Iago is jealous of Desdemona being married to Othello, when Iago envisions himself in her place. There is one sequence in Frantic, on the pool table, Iago is standing over Desdemona, and then the table rotates as Iago walks along it and his crotch level with Othello’s head. Read between the lines yourself.
The ensemble of Frantic Assembly was subliminally phenomenal. Each actor played a key part to the show’s success. Every actor was strong in movement but eloquent in speech, which is a hard thing to do. Especially when, in one moment, one is being flung around a pool table and in the next reciting a speech in perfect iambic pentameter. Under the electric and elegant direction and choreography of Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett with Eddie Kay, “Othello” simmers into a beautiful crescendo of emotions and physical energy.
The actor that stood out most ferociously was Steven Miller, who you might recognise as playing Lenny Lyons in Casualty, with his relentless energetic flair and passionate speaking, in verse. His monologues were heart-felt and sincerely understood.
The set, for me, played a fundamental part in the atmosphere witnessed by the audience. The way the concertina flats moved effortlessly around the stage, and the way the pool table zoomed in and out, almost like a feather, was only short of genius. My favourite scene was when Cassio (Ryan Fletcher) is drunk and he portrays being drunk most convincingly, and the set aided to this with the ‘walls’ literally moving as Fletcher zig-zagged alongside it portraying the drunk effect we all know, very well, “the room is spinning”.