Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Othello @ Gullivers, Manchester, 22.09.14

Taking on Shakespeare is a herculean task in any nature, and taking it to the fringe scene is a bold and brave move. To deal with such caliber can be quite ambitious with the short rehearsals, small spaces and limited budgets of fringe. I for one have been hesitant as to whether it could be done; my past experience of fringe productions of Shakespeare have consisted of untamed onomatopoeia, embarrassing staging and such a thing as ‘Shitfaced Shakespeare’ – which in short (though I’m sure you’ve guessed) is a production of a Shakespeare play with one inebriated actor royally screwing it up. All of which was marketed as a contemporary niche.

To me the ‘try hard’ factor lets down these performances, with more concentration being put on that niche than on the deliverance. However, this was not the case with Lass Production’s Othello. Director Michael Whittaker and producer Gareth Kavanagh found a wonderful balance of staying true to the piece as well as giving the narrative a contemporary accessibility. Bonus points are awarded for finding success with their niche: setting the action in a football club. This idea was inspired by the infamous falling out of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand over alleged racial slurs that resulted in Terry loosing his England captaincy in 2011. This motif was used eloquently, without overshadowing the brilliance of the words.

The skilled delivery of these words of course is thanks to the abundantly talented cast, with George Oluyinka playing the title role – personifying themes of isolation and jealousy. Arch-villain Iago is played by the phenomenal Liam Grunshaw; the versatility of his emotional range perfectly pairs Iago’s comedic dimensions against scheming tyranny.

The other players of the match day line up were: Francene Turner as Othello’s wife Desdemonda, Taran Knight as Rederigo, Dru Jones as Montano, Eryl Lloyd Parry as Brabantio, Roisin McCusker as Bianca and Vicky Burrows as Gratiano, all of whom played with honest conviction. A serious hat tip goes to Ryan Russell who artfully gave life to a very likeable Cassio. Finally, Morag McLean Peacock injected the play with feminine strength as the feisty Emilia.

The cast took the challenge of Shakespeare without fear; they allowed themselves to open up to potentially difficult but nonetheless interesting material – and the rewards were bountiful. An enjoyable piece of theatre that stays true to its context, with accessibility for the modern audience.

Words: Kate Morris

Images: Courtesy of Shay Rowan and Lass Productions

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