The last time I wrote about this problematic play, I wasn't happy. Desdemona had been limp, Othello wasn't always convincing, and well, the production I had seen, had fallen flat. And then last Friday I was chaperoned to the Unicorn Theatre, by two eleven year olds, to see Othello: The Remix.
I'd heard of the production before. They had performed in the UK last year as part of the Cultural Olympiad, and a friend who had seen it then, had said it had been the best thing on stage in that celebration. And so I went to see it, knowing that it was going to be an 'ad-RAP-tation' and intrigued to see if they could redeem this play which I had so disliked in its rendition at the National.
I've got to say, I laughed a lot - and it wasn't always because of the humour. This is a layered, provocative and clever production and by far the most successful modern reinterpretation of Othello that I have seen. Set to a live beat spun by a DJ, it walks that brilliant line between pastiche and parody, all the while asking you accept and understand that rap is simply another way of storytelling. That the four actors had balding Dads in button downs and Barbour jackets throwing their hands in the air says something about the energy and playfulness of the performance. There are obvious references to the intensity of Eminem, the catchy cheese fest that is Will Smith, and the penchant for that kind of rap laced with spiralling vocals that Hov and Bey have immortalised. Christina Aguilera and even Motown make an appearance, which makes this a hidden musical appreciation quiz.
The focus, as with many newer interpretations of this classic play, is on Iago. Played by GQ - one half of the creative duo that are The Q Brothers, who write, rap, act, and direct this piece - he is sly, manipulative and a festering of jealous malice. And this means that Othello, for whom the play is named, is actually a supporting actor. There are endearing caricatures in Bianca the Latina, Roderigo the spineless fantasy strategy game player, and Loco Vito who has all the gruffness of Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Special mention must be made of Jackson Doran who plays Cassio and Emilia. As Cassio he's ebullient, sensitive and vacant; as Emilia whimpering, desperate and loyal. For me, this particular staging, set among young men, to a style of music that appeals to an eclectic fan base, spiced with references to wider pop culture, allows us to see into the heart of the story; be careful to whom you listen.
The recommended viewing age for the play is 13+. It's got a lot of suggestive material, and my chaperones weren't always comfortable with that. I expect that older audiences will get more out of it. Certainly on that Friday night, the majority were in their mid-twenties and older. I've never been disappointed at the Unicorn, and this accessible but unconventional perspective delivers. It's only running until the 29th of September so book your seats and let me know if you liked it!
Othello: The Remix. Unicorn Theatre, 12-29th September.