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Set in a pub caught at the frontier of the racial tension in West Yorkshire in 2001, Frantic Assembly’s “Othello” took an original Shakespearean play and reinvented it for a modern audience whilst still keeping the authenticity of the original text. The majority of the performance was set in a public house with the main focus of the stage on a pool table surrounded by various tables and chairs as seen in the diagram below. The table was on wheels allowing it to be easily maneuvered on and off stage between scenes.

The walls were not fixed in one position and could ‘fold’ and ‘sway’ when needed. This was used to great effect in one scene where Othello, portrayed by Jimmy Akingbola, commits suicide. The walls concaved around the actor, creating a strong feeling of claustrophobia within the audience. This allowed the viewer to clearly relate to the emotions experienced by the character as he realized the consequence of his actions; a foreboding feeling of doom. Throughout the scene, the lighting and sound design also played a major part in raising the tension for the audience.

Until this particular moment in the play, there had always been a hushed background noise of the distant thump of disco music and barking dogs; however, for this scene, the faint hum was replaced by silence. This startling contrast grabbed the audience’s attention and sharply conveyed the sense of urgency whilst allowing Akingbola’s final monologue to be heard clearly and emphatically. The lighting dimmed and a single spotlight shone on Akingbola suggesting to the audience the importance of the actor’s character within the scene.

Throughout the duration of the play I felt the set was managed magnificently. The basic initial layout and lack of set changes complemented the actors’ simplistic approach to the original text. Whilst the actors spoke in Shakespearian tongue and didn’t amend the text, the set was only altered for two scenes which helped to intensify the strength of the effect that these transformations had. An example of this would be the scene in which Iago (Charles Aitken) murders a defenseless Michael Cassio (Jami Reid-Quarrel) in a dark back alley.

This is the only scene set away from the public house but still uses the majority of the same set. The stage designers created a distinction between the two locations by painting the background for the alley on the reverse side of the public house walls. As previously mentioned these walls were semi-rigid and could be moved and spun to create new acting areas and this was used to great effect within this scene. The strong disparity between the brightly painted walls of the public house and the murky gloom of a Yorkshire alley made the audience feel a slight sense of unease before anything had even happened.

I also felt that the set was incredibly convincing, due in part to many props being taken straight out of a public house: a transportable pool table at centre stage and a fully-functioning fruit machine front stage right. Furthermore, the stage was set up in such a way that the audience felt as if they were sitting in the pub with the actors and that the characters were just fellow customers with the action occurring around them. For these reasons I believe the set and scenery was extremely authentic and effective and helped to enhance the theatrical experience making the play easier for the audience to immerse themselves in.

The music used as a ‘soundtrack’ to the play was all written, performed and produced by a musical duo named Hybrid. Their style of music draws many similarities to the production of Othello with a blend of old and new, aimed at a modern audience. Hybrid take large orchestral symphonies and blend it with contemporary beats and driving percussion to create a sound that is stirring, dramatic and emotionally charged. The symphonic element of the music is in direct reference to the use of a classical text; whilst at the same time, the breakbeat element is suggestive of a modern, urban landscape.

One scene in which this became particularly clear was the scene where Iago attempts to plant the handkerchief on Michael Cassio during the dance. The music began very light and orchestral whilst the actors performed a baroque dance composition and slowly developed into something far grittier and faster paced. The dance progressed evenly with the music and showed how the play was authentic and loyal to the original text whilst still contemporary enough for a modern audience to follow and relate to.

Overall, in my opinion, the music was perfectly suited for the performance and provided a faultless sonic setting for the play. In conclusion, I feel that Frantic Assembly succeeded in their aim to reinvent the play for the audience of today whilst still keeping true to the text. The modernisation of the setting of the play not only made it more enjoyable but also far easier to understand and relate to. The play was not flawless however, an over use of fake blood towards the end of the play, turned otherwise serious death scenes into something quite comical and farcical.

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