Bloody, bold and resolute

Frantic Assembly’s Othello. Southampton, Nuffield Theatre. 23 October 2008
Frantic Assembly’s Othello is a brutal, bloody world. The play opened with the background sounds of police sirens, shouting and ranting. Loud dance music pounds out across the audience and after a while the cast stroll onto the stage.

Dressed almost exclusively in trackies, hoodies and Reebok classics this was a tough inner city pub, run down, stained and dirty. Action tended to focus around the pool table. Eventually someone walks in, starting trouble and Frantic Assembly’s fluid union of dance and acting showed off its skills. The fight had a balletic brutality which was thrilling and frightening to watch. There was the definite feel that vicious violence lurked beneath the surface, threatening to break out at any moment.

The play was itself heavily cut- described by one critic as having a broken bottle taken to it- and that seems quite an apt description. The language has been razored and slashed to leave gleaming slivers of authentic dialogue standing out in granite hard flat northern vowels. This fitted perfectly with the hard, gritty violence of the piece and filled the audience with apprehension at how the story was going to unfold.

Iago was splayed very strongly by Charles Aitken who had enough charm to be menacing: and yet there was a sliver of vulnerability about him that seemed to suggest a broken soul.

The play moved on rapidly, finishing in a little over an hours and a half, moving onto to the final brutal climax. The killing of Desdemona was one of the few scenes which was performed in silence with no music or background noise. Desdemona was lifted above Othello upon the pool table and the physicality of the actors managed to convey the overwhelming violence of the attack. It left a few shocked people in the audience.

Othello turned on himself and there were a number of razors and broken bottles taken to people, bringing forth clouts of thick arterial blood- becoming smeared across the classic white trainers. The play finished with Iago having been thrown out into the street, being beaten one presumes unto the death.

This was a compelling vision of the classic tragedy, through the prism of the modern world. This was Britain’s dark side; the one that threateningly erupts into riots and tensions every so often. As an introduction to kids that are switched off from classical theatre this was a great experience full of vomit and violence, smashed glass and smashed identities- everything that a traditional performance would give but with a throaty physicality which shone a spotlight on the grimmer sides of British culture.


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