A modern-day production of Othello set in a pub on a tough Yorkshire estate might have the Shakespeare traditionalists tutting but director Scott Graham says he’s following in the Bard’s footsteps.
Frantic Assembly’s production, which is in Doncaster next week, sets Shakespeare’s tale of jealousy and violence in a mixed relationship in the pool room and car park of a Leeds pub at the time when racial tensions were high in West Yorkshire in 2001.
Scott said: “Originally I had no intention of updating the production and it was a suggestion from somebody else. It was only when I looked into it that I realised there were possibilities.”
He was inspired by the book Dark Heart, written by journalist Nick Davies, particularly a section about a Leeds estate that became almost a no-go area for police when racial violence flared up over a perceived “Asian invasion” of the area in 2001.
Scott realised that violence, fear and racial tensions could be a perfect fit for the story of Othello.
He said: “Lots of people talk about it being a white and Asian thing. The black community sided with the white community and it played out in a similar way to the theme of Othello.
“Othello has been applauded in a white culture, yet when something goes wrong, namely Desdemona sleeping with him, he then becomes other and becomes the outsider.
“Othello is celebrated as the leader of this group and then someone in this group turns them against him.”
However, although the setting may be modern, Scott said that the beauty of Shakespeare’s original poetry and text are still at the heart of his production.
He added: “What Frantic Assembly has more than any other company is a young audience. Massive numbers of school parties are coming to see the work.
“They are shouting, screaming and cheering as soon as the lights go down and they are again at the end. They are connecting with it all the way through.”
He stressed: “Othello is not a history play, it’s a work of fiction and a domestic play about a man, his wife and someone he thinks of as his friend.
“They have feelings that are so clear and utterly contemporary.”
Scott pointed out that the very first production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar featured actors in both Elizabethan dress and Roman togas and tunics.
“Traditional Shakespeare in traditional dress is a conservative creation,” added Scott.
Judge for yourself at Cast in Doncaster next Tuesday to Saturday. Box office: at the venue in Waterdale, online at Cast in Doncaster or call 01302 303 959.