Fringe Box



Stage Dragon Review: Othello – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 2 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 2 Nov, 2022

By Alice Fowler

Anyone who thinks Shakespeare is dull or irrelevant should head apace to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre this week. Frantic Assembly’s touring production of Othello, showing until Saturday, is sensual, charged and raw.

High energy at the Cypress pub in Othello at the Yvonne Arnaud.
Photo by Tristram Kenton

The action takes place in a pub – archly named The Cypress, in reference to the original play’s Cyprus setting – around, and often on top of, a green baize pool table.

Michael Akinsulire as Othello is magnificent, his performance as muscular as his well-developed upper arms. This is a highly physical production, full of acrobatic brawling, flirtation and desire. For the first five minutes, actors in hooded anoraks move about the pool table to a throbbing soundtrack, wielding pool cues with erotic intensity.

Brabantio, father of Desdemona (Matthew Trevannion) confronts Othello ( Michael Akinsulire) in Othello at the Yvonne Arnaud. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

While Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s adaptation takes place over just two acts, Shakespeare’s powerful language is unchanged. Its theme – all too pertinent for our times – is misinformation. Drip by drip, Iago (Joe Clayton), driven by the “green-eyed monster” jealousy, feeds into Othello’s thoughts the idea that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful.

Othello (Michael Akinsulire) bathed in blood-red light. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

At the play’s start, nothing could be further from Othello’s mind. Leader of the gang of youths who hang out at the Cypress pub, he is cool and charismatic. His wife Desdemona (Chanel Waddock), whom he has married without her father’s knowledge, struts about the stage in black hoodie, shorts and trainers, her hair in a high knot on her head. An extraordinary scene of passion between Othello and Desdemona takes place on top of the pool table, leaving us in no doubt of their mutual desire.

Friends pour shots down Cassio’s (Tom Gill) throat. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Othello is an English A-level set text, and the Yvonne Arnaud on opening night was packed with enthusiastic teenagers. Certainly this dynamic production, co-produced with Leicester-based producing theatre Curve, is staged with them in mind.

In another memorable set-piece, Cassio (Tom Gill), under pressure from Iago, downs shots at the urging of his friends; his drunkenness cleverly shown as the pub’s papered walls start to shift and bend around him.

Losing touch with reality: Othello (Michael Akinsulire). Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Another inventive scene takes place in a dingy lavatory where, later in the play, Desdemona and her friend Emilia (Kirsty Stuart), lament the poor treatment of women at the hands of men.

‘Put out the light’: Othello plans to take Desdemona’s life. Photo by Tristram Kenton.

Othello, as we all know, is a tragedy, with Iago’s malevolent twisting of the facts leading to a violent end. Director Scott Graham and designer Laura Hopkins bring a bloody brutality to these closing scenes – too much for this reviewer, but perhaps speaking directly to a younger, street-wise audience. Best availability for tickets is Friday and Saturday, for viewers aged 14 up.

Othello runs at the Yvonne Arnaud theatre, Guildford, until November 5. Box Office 01483 440000 or online here.

Desdemona (Chanel Waddock) grasps the depths of her husband’s fury. Photo byTristram Kenton.

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