“a creative, fresh and inspiring approach to Shakespeare’s text”
‘Othello Remixed’ takes the epic tragedy – a story of jealousy and manipulation – and puts it in the centre of young urban culture. Othello is not a warrior, but a boxer, and in the words of its director, the script has “as many ‘fams’ as we do ‘thees’ and ‘thous’”. Darren Raymond, Artistic Director of Intermission Theatre Company and writer (after Shakespeare) and director of the piece, goes on to draw parallels between the rhythms of new language being created by young people and Elizabethan slang. And this parallel is clear in performance. Words from two different eras run together seamlessly. The themes are made shockingly contemporary, and I have never seen an audience laugh so much in a production of Othello.
The cast is made up of graduates from Intermission Theatre’s Youth Theatre who have gone on to professional careers in the industry. Highlights include Kwame Reed as Othello, Iain Gordon as Rico and Micah Loubon as Cassio. Hoda Bentaher delivers a standout performance as Desdemona, supported by Nakeba Buchanan as Emilia in another brilliant performance. Baba Oyejide plays the demanding role of Iago. He takes some time to settle into it but gets stronger over the course of the play excelling as he becomes increasingly more manipulative whilst repeatedly talking about honesty.
There is a little too much movement and comedy in the second act. Having created comedy so successfully in the earlier half of the play, stillness is needed to impress the gravity of the more serious moments. The piece isn’t as hard hitting as it’s Shakespearean counterpart and the edits to the ending take away from the usual impact the final scenes have.
Designed by Catherine Morgan, the set is a detailed study of a boxing studio, the ring in the centre, red and blue, the walls hung with punch bags, gloves and towels. It looks immediately dynamic and bold.
This is a creative, fresh and inspiring approach to Shakespeare’s text that places it slap bang in the modern world, but loses some of the original’s tragic weight.
“amidst a mixed bag in terms of design and script, there lays a five-star performance from Cary Crankson”
At least on the face of it, or on any level I can fathom, Simon Stephens’ ‘Country Music’ is not about country music – much to the disappointment, I presume, of the front row who have all come prepared in their rhinestone cowboy hats. The set (Liam Shea), consisting of a raised platform with ropes pulling tight at its corners – a boxing ring? Or maybe a boat? – is another red herring. Whatever it’s meant to be, it’s unclear.
But beyond this initial confusion is a beautiful ninety minute performance. Cary Crankson plays the part of Jamie with such pain-staking nuance – the slight drawl, almost rhythmic; wide eyes and slow but purposeful movements conveying both psychopathic aggression and boyish sweetness – it’s near impossible to imagine him playing any other role. We follow him over a twenty year span, first as a thuggish eighteen-year-old running away from a violent crime, with fifteen-year-old Lynsey (Rebecca Stone), then ten years later, on his second stint in prison with visiting stepbrother Matty (Dario Coates), and finally as a repentant middle-aged man with a daughter he hardly knows (Frances Knight), before winding back twenty years to a sunny afternoon just before it all went irreversibly wrong.
Plot details are drip-fed organically via casual conversation, leaving the audience to work a little to put the pieces together, but the characters are so well developed, there is the impression that the performers know their parts far beyond what the script alone has given them. The dialogue is perfectly paced, allowing for believable patter – funny silences trying to chew through a sweet, accidentally talking over each other, strained small-talk when it’s clear so much more is going unsaid.
Creative lighting (Benny Goodman) and sound are used almost exclusively between scenes to denote a leap in years – Kid-A-style snippets pair with slowly pulsating yellow lighting, like an old movie projector. The abrupt lack of any distractions during the scenes, in comparison to these poetic passages of time, creates an honest starkness. There are no jazz hands, no light relief, except that which the characters themselves create – a small joke or two, eked out amidst moments of distress and frustration.
All of this added up, however, doesn’t quite make a full plot. Either it should have been a half hour shorter – a perfect tableau of a man’s life – or it needed a second half. There is no excess, and the audience is focussed throughout, but in short, Scott Le Crass’ direction sees a beautiful and heart-breaking portrayal of an unfinished story. That said, amidst a mixed bag in terms of design and script, there lays a five-star performance from Cary Crankson. Whilst his co-stars all fulfil their duties honourably, Crankson’s ability is masterful, taking this production from mediocre to a must-see.