Othello from the National Youth Theatre’s Rep Company is an absolute must-watch. Perfect casting, brilliant actors, and hypnotic music constitute a bold, yet wonderful idea for staging Shakespeare. It is touching, mesmerising, dynamic and powerful.
Set during Manchester’s rave scene of the 90s, Othello by the National Youth Theatre explores all the emotional intricacies of Shakespearean drama and does it real justice. This is not a modernisation for the sake of it but an actual interpretation of the text, brilliantly done by Dzifa Benson. Her version of Othello proves that the dramaturg’s job is not necessarily about radical changes of the original play but its careful study. Powerful additions to the text, like Othello’s honest “Fuck you”, snapped at Desdemona, make it juicy and relatable, without changing the original context.
Speaking of Othello, while the entire young cast does an excellent job, acting almost organically, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers in the eponymous role unquestionably steals the show. A bold and confident performer, yet displaying fragility, ideally conveying Othello’s fight against both systematic and internalized racism.
As besets the rave staging, Othello vibrates with music and dance. Talented actors sing live, which might feel a bit distracting from the main plotline but simultaneously, that’s what the show is about. Every nod or every awkward smile in the background matter and contribute to the story. The stage movement by Olivier Award-winning director Miranda Cromwell convincingly embodies the club scenery, shifting between the dancefloor, smoking area and cloakroom, drowned in alcohol and powdered with drugs.
Othello from the National Youth Theatre’s Rep Company deserves a praise for very clever staging but most importantly, it should be seen as an extremely valid production. Race-conscious, gender-conscious and sexuality-conscious, it abstracts the most important Shakespearean ideas but simultaneously, it comments on the present in a painfully accurate way. With its powerful soundtrack and narcotic scenery, it resembles a younger, cooler and more socially aware cousin of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. See it and spread the word.
Othello is at NYT Workshop Theatre until 26th June 2021.