Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton – until Saturday 29 May 2021
Reviewed by Megan Raynor
Following their run of Animal Farm last week, the NYT Rep Company were back with a new revival of Shakespeare’s Othello – Abridged by Dzifa Benson and directed by Miranda Cromwell.
Club Cyrus. Manchester. 1991. Othello (Francesca Amewudah-Rivers) and Desdemona (Alexandra Hannant) have made their wedding vows, an act of both devoted love and defiance – defiance against Desdemona’s father and against complying to a society built on heteronormativity and systemic racism. Set over the course of one very messy night, bouncer Iago (Connor Crawford) begins to plant the seed (and the substances) of paranoia, puppet master of the night – manipulating an evening of violence and vengeance.
I’m a big believer that ruffled collared RP Shakespeare often creates a disconnect and inaccessibility to Shakepseare’s work and this felt like a refreshingly accessible portrayal. The rave setting was an incredibly strong choice, with both the playful choices of the dreaded club queue and the cloakroom havoc along with the sense of heat and claustrophobia distorting the character’s sense of morality and rationality. The adaptation of sections of the original text to live song served as a soundtrack to the piece (Composing and Musical Direction by Renell Shaw), again adding a new life and tonality to the text and bringing a new energy.
A female Othello again should not be revolutionary in 2021 but it is always so invigorating to hear the words not long since reserved for the mouths of men be taken and owned by the women of theatre. This choice added a new a dimension, the stakes were raised for the couple in question, they had to fight even harder against the perceived illegitimacy of their relationship – both with the perceived ideas of inter-racial couples and of queerness.
The chorus served as a constant beat and energy, creating a backdrop of bodies swept up in the music and the hypnotic nature of the evening. They also acted as an echo for duplicity of Iago, a soundscape of deception. A strong choice to portray Othello’s fraying psyche but was repeated so frequently it lost its impact. As a whole I felt many of the creative decisions were right but just utilised a little too repetitively. Visually I felt similar, my sense were not heightened in the same way that the company’s production of Animal Farm achieved.
Some of the choices felt a little over stylised to the point of airing on cliched, I was sucked out of the intensity each time the deceased character arose to standing, likewise when the blood of Desdemona appeared in the form of a red cannon of confetti. For such a seemingly forward-thinking piece I couldn’t help but feeling that moments such as these jarred with the dynamic and progressive essence of the piece.
It was a bold interpretation of Othello which disturbingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, still mirrors the streets, clubs and the societal structures right outside our doors – taken on by a powerhouse of a cast.
Othello and Animal Farm will continue their run to The Workshop Theatre (2nd -12th June), Soulton Hall (10th -13th June) and Bolsover Castle (23rd-26th June).