Othello Remixed at the Omnibus Theatre: ‘All I would ask of this work is that it take longer.’
“It is hard to imagine that any of Shakespeare’s plays has a more obvious contemporary relevance than Othello.” These are Professor Andrew Hadfield’s words, and they reflect a pervasive sentiment in Shakespeare today: why ‘obvious’? Like a great deal of Shakespeare’s plays, Othello feels like it presciently addresses some of the liveliest conversations pertaining to questions of racism and the societal expectations of the sexes towards each other. What’s fascinating about uncovering this in Shakespeare is that ostensibly these were not mainstream issues of public political discourse as they are today. What has traditionally appealed about Shakespeare’s work is its universal humanity, its artful handling of questions about the allure of power, the duality of the self, the sentiment of ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’ In my opinion, for a contemporary adaptation to work, both of these roads need to be travelled together and writer-director Darren Raymond has kept this in mind while he was devising Othello Remixed with the Intermission Theatre Company.
While enjoying my preshow complimentary glass of wine and trying to look comfortable on my tod, I occupied myself with a bit of research. The programme provided was very informative, but an article written by Mr Raymond for The Stage gave me an important insight into what drives this director. Raymond came to Shakespeare via a prison programme, something to ‘break up the monotony of prison life.’ His Othello stands as testament to the value of these programmes. The intense and human liberation that comes from good art, and the insight it can provide directionless people, was clearly a value he identified in Shakespeare, and so he made it core to his ethos at Intermission (which he set up in 2008). The first thing I noticed was how apparent this was in the piece itself. IYT’s cast for Othello Remixed felt personally invested in the work, and it truly came across as though the work had not only been rewarding and enjoyable, but also that it had contributed something personal, and they in turn gave something back.
There was not one single drop in energy throughout the entire performance; there was one time where Bianca had some set-related struggle, but this was picked up and saved perfectly by the acerbic Iago (and are these moments not the theatre’s little gifts?). Baba Oyejide’s Iago truly stood out to me in this play. His embodiment of a weedy, so obviously deceitful snake, while at the same time a charismatic and smooth-talking spinner hit the mark. Kwame Reed’s Othello took his time to come out, but by the fatal end he had me covering my face with my hands, heart palpitating and close to tears.
The adaptation was meticulous. From the recontextualizing of the piece into a boxing ring scenario, complete with a ‘referee’ to compliment Iago’s complex emotional voyage, the sensitive addressing of problems relevant to today’s London: sexism, violence and drugs incorporated into the story. The symbolism, substituting the fatal marriage bed for the fatal boxing ring, all was intelligently creative. No doubt Raymond will get some slack for his disregard of Shakespeare’s language, but his faith to Shakespeare’s creative vision rises far above this. The presence of ‘fam’, ‘Nandos’ and ‘sket’ alongside ‘thou’, ‘yonder’ and ‘methinks’ was a creative decision that totally paid off thanks to the dedication of the company.
All I would ask of this work is that it take longer. Running at about an hour and forty-five minutes the show felt like a good fast paced piece of action, while I’d have certainly sat through an extra half hour or so of what I saw. At times I felt rushed through this journey, and that I was expected to know more about the characters before me than the show had given me a chance. In this light, I look forward to more from IYT in the future.
Othello Remixed is at the Omnibus Theatre until the 14th July, 2019.
Photograph credit: Richard Jinman.