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Posted on 13th Nov 2017 Back to News

Frantic Assembly’s Othello: Re-imagining Shakespeare for the 21st Century

A real challenge for English Literature students as they progress to the second year of their A Level study is to get to grips with Shakespeare’s work, times and the impact he has on the modern world.  Whilst the language can be difficult, we aim to instil in our students the importance of focusing on the texts as performance pieces.  Shakespeare, we believe, is our country’s most valuable cultural product and, it is for this very reason that, we endeavour to expose students to a diverse range of Shakespearean productions: at the theatre, the cinema or on DVD.  Nothing matches seeing his rich body of work being interpreted by imaginative directors and performed by great actors.

Othello 1On Friday a group of 10 A Level English Literature students took advantage of a fantastic opportunity to see Frantic Assembly’s acclaimed production of Othello at The Ambassador’s Theatre, Leicester Square. Shakespeare's tale of jealousy, betrayal and the complexity of human relationships was transferred from early 17th century Venice to 21st century Britain.  This helped to display the universality of the play's themes, which is a concept we have been interrogating during our class discussions.  Hearing Iago and Roderigo's racial epithets in a modern British context was a stark reminder of how race, and the ideologies bound up with it, are still problems we are grappling with in today’s society.  Also, the issues surrounding masculinity and reputation were as relevant in a contemporary pool hall as they were on Shakespeare’s Cypriot battlefield. The set masterfully reflected the internal states of the characters, as the play developed at a pace towards Othello's inevitable downfall the ceiling lowered and pillars shook. This exacerbated the fall of the tragic hero and exposed his vulnerability and fragility.  The production captured all of the nuances of Shakespeare's play for the students and highlighted the range of ways directors can interpret the text. A prime example of this is Iago's 'Ha! I like not that' on which, arguably, the whole play hinges. From this moment Othello's sense of paranoia went in to overdrive as he became obsessed with his wife Desdemona's supposed infidelity with his lieutenant, Cassio. The symbolic significance of Desdemona's handkerchief being the 'ocular proof' that Othello needed to justify his murderous actions was conveyed brilliantly.

Othello 2The students were captivated from start to finish; Oumou Diallo stated that ‘seeing the play really helped me to understand the emotions that are behind the characters’ actions’.  Joel Renouf commented that ‘the production really brought out Othello’s hubris (arrogance) and laid bare his hamartia (tragic flaws)’.  All of the students are excited to see their next Shakespearean production and discover how his work is as relevant now as it was over 400 years ago.

Tom Edwards (Subject Coordinator of English Literature)