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Frantic Assembly's brutal, high-octane version of Shakespeare's 'Othello'.
With trademark style, theatre company Frantic Assembly breathe brutal new life into Shakespeare’s tale of manipulation, sexual jealousy and murder. First staged in 2008, this exceptionally good production drops ‘Othello’ into a Shane Meadows-esque landscape of bare-knuckle friendships and simmering violence.
While retaining the verse, Frantic Assembly’s adaptation downplays the dukedoms and overseas warfare. Iago’s machinations play out over a pool table in a grubby pub with a slot-machine flashing in the corner. It works well, distilling the bristling rivalry of the original into a bleak, modern-day Britain populated by a disaffected younger generation and shadowed by racism.
The cast thoroughly ground their characters in the burnt-out reality of their circumstances, in which acceptance of Mark Ebulue’s powerful, quick-tempered Othello is tentative and fragile. Steven Miller’s coiled-spring Iago can easily destroy it with his poisonous whispers of infidelity. These are young men with nothing, and therefore everything to prove.
Kirsty Oswald impresses as a strong-willed Desdemona, able to fight her corner but fatally blindsided by her love for Othello. Her conversation with Leila Crerar’s Emilia about sexual double standards – here transposed from the bedchamber to the pub toilet – is a highlight: funny, sad and still uncomfortably relevant today.
There’s a sinewy, balletic beauty to the show’s choreography, which mixes baseball bats and dance in sequences evoking tense social rituals. Together with a thudding soundtrack and a set whose moving walls seem to ripple with the adrenalin buzz of every beating, it adds to the breathless ominousness of Scott Graham’s pulse-racing production.