Frantic Assembly’s Othello

Charly, Tender Youth Board member
Youth Board stood outside the theatre for their Othello trip

On the 11th of February, Tender held its first in person Youth Board social event after the pandemic. We were kindly gifted some tickets to see Frantic Assembly’s Othello. Before we talk about how amazing the show was, let’s dive into the socialising. We all had a lovely meal before the show and got a chance to really get to know each other – as much as I enjoy the zoom youth board meetings, getting to just have a good natter in person was delightful. This social also gave us the opportunity to meet Tender’s CEO Susie McDonald and a couple of other staff members. This was equally as delightful, and it was really interesting to get a greater insight into the company and team as a whole. If I was to sum up the meal and socialising section of the evening in a few words it would be: relaxed, exciting and good food!  

Now, onto the show!

I am a massive fan of Frantic Assembly and have now seen four of their shows. Frantic Assembly is one of the main reasons I decided to study theatre and now have a career in it. I was inspired by the physical theatre in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, so, to say I was a little excited was an understatement. Additionally, I have never read or seen Othello, I hadn’t looked up a summary either, so I was going into the show with no preconceived idea of the story, which is my favourite way to see a show. 

Watching the show through the lens of a drama graduate and theatre maker I was really drawn to the imaginative and clever use of the set. I would say Frantic Assembly are known for their impressive and intriguing moveable sets, although this was the first show of theirs where the way it moves was concealed. The play was set in and around a standard slightly run-down English pub. It had all the essentials: red velvet booth seating with questionable stains, a pool table and a betting machine with neon lights. The whole set could then be opened up to reveal the back alley of the pub with some big industrial bins. The only other setting was the ladies’ loos, of which the door to this was visible throughout the show. This section of the set would then turn 180 degrees to reveal the actual toilets for one scene only.

Despite all that flexible remarkable muti-functional set I have already mentioned, it isn’t even my favourite way the set moved. Within one scene, the character of Cassio gets very drunk and falls into the back wall, but instead of Cassio landing on a flat wall, the wall appears to engulf him, then he is rolled along the wall, the wall moving in a wave pattern seemingly pushing Cassio along. This really encapsulates that “too drunk to stand” feeling, where the room feels as if its spinning and you could just get sucked into the wall.  

Next, I am going to talk about the general themes of the play with a focus on the relationships, as Tender is all about healthy and unhealthy relationships. The main themes I saw were love, loss and manipulation. Throughout the play the love between Othello and Desdemona is clear, and this was really tenderly shown through a movement piece on the pool-table (serving, for this scene, as a bed). Each movement was delicate, loving and passionate, which created an intimate and beautiful moment where we really got to see them be vulnerable with each other. This was clearly a healthy relationship at this point in the play, each character treating the other with such care. Another healthy relationship we see is that between Desdemona and Emilia. Their friendship is one I think any person would desire, they have lots of fun together, they can rely on each other for advice and laugh a lot.  

The villain of the play is Iago. He influences the unhealthy relationships in the play by spreading lies and manipulating people. His betrayal to Othello and many of the other characters is clear and known by the audience throughout the play, as Iago is the only character to have asides to the audience and breaks the fourth wall. For me, this created a sense of guilt when things were going wrong for the characters, as I knew that Iago was responsible, and the characters would be happy if he hadn’t intervened and started meddling. Iago played with Othello’s feelings and created a sense of doubt for Othello in Desdemona’s loyalty and faithfulness to him. This is clearly an unhealthy friendship because Iago is lying and specifically preys on Othello due to his race. Iago targets and take advantage of Othello because he believes he doesn’t deserve the power and love he has because he is black. This is even more obvious when Othello and Desdemona both dies because Iago seems to have no remorse for not only using people to achieve what he wants, but taking advantage of people with less privilege than himself. For Othello, this has a clear effect on his emotional wellbeing as he gets consumed by jealousy and obsessed with the idea that Desdemona was unfaithful. However, instead of talking openly with Desdemona about his concerns/vulnerabilities, Othello makes the devastating choice to reassert a sense of power within the situation by murdering Desdemona. Desdemona is an innocent victim in Iago’s games. I think Iago sees her a collateral damage which was unavoidable. In a play dominated by male characters, this highlights the violence that women and girls can be subjected to as a consequence of male violence/entitlement. The play is also dominated by white characters which singles Othello out and highlights how Lago as a white man feels he has the privilege/right to manipulate Othello. To sum it up, Othello is a tender, bloody, brutal representation of how lies can plant and grow resulting in people becoming consumed by jealously.  

This adaptation of Othello was full of effortless movement sequences making whole humans float like feathers, while also communicating such tender and brutal emotions. The absence of classic Shakespearean accents made the play more accessible and was very refreshing. The set design was clever, imaginative and awe-inspiring! It made me laugh, be in complete shock and left me inspired to see and create more theatre. Thank you Tender for the opportunity to go see this incredible play and thank you to Frantic Assembly for creating a masterpiece.