Frantic Assembly will present Shakespeare’s Othello at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford from November 1 to 5.
Artistic director Scott Graham has relocated the play from 16th-century Venice to a pub on a run-down Yorkshire housing estate in a post-industrial town.
Asked why he had changed Shakespeare’s language, Mr Graham said: “We didn’t. Every word you hear in our Othello was written by William Shakespeare over four centuries ago.”
For Graham working on a text written by Shakespeare is no different to collaborating with the many contemporary writers with whom the company works.
He said wryly: “Shakespeare’s really very good – it’s 400 years of genius. We feel very lucky to be collaborating with one of the best writers in the world.
“We never wanted to rewrite Shakespeare, we never wanted to compromise the language, but we did want to do a version of Othello where the clarity of the world, of the storytelling and of the tensions and meanings in the play are made very clear. If you do that and do it well, then you can sneak the language in under the radar.”
Frantic does it very well in a production in which Othello, the black man who in Shakespeare’s original has risen to become an admired general in the army, becomes the leader of a local gang.
But the cracks in his position begin to show when he marries the daughter of a local white man. In 110 violently watchable minutes, set around a pool table in a pub, the jealousy of gang member Iago – who feels overlooked and under-appreciated – turns malignant, and he persuades Othello that his young bride, Desdemona, has been unfaithful. With tragic consequences.
This is a pulsating, tightly choreographed racy thriller in which Othello and Desdemona consummate their love on the pool table, the men swagger around the space with an animal grace, Desdemona and her friend Emilia gossip in the ladies’ toilets, and the emotional temperature changes.
There are evening shows at 7.30pm plus Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. For tickets, priced £24.50, see www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk