CHICAGO SHAKESPEARE THEATER & RICHARD JORDAN PRODUCTIONS LTD’s ‘OTHELLO: THE REMIX’

The last two nights I have seen two of Shakespeare’s tragedies reinvented for the modern stage and if you want to play with Shakespeare, here’s how you do it.

Imagine Othello, rising out of the hood and now reigning king of hip-hop. His crew, loyal and upbeat Cassio and hip-hop purist and hardcore Iago make up the triumvirate that tour with tension and humour at their base. Iago, the twisted Machiavellian villain, makes it his mission to knock Othello off his perch and embraces a gang style culture of violence, drugs, sex and blackmail to succeed. Whilst the play is not afraid of exploring the humour in character, situation and relationships, it equally delves into the tension and trauma of that world using Shakespeare’s play as a solid reference.

What you get in all of this is 80 minutes of terrific theatre, music, dance, beats and classic camaraderie of ‘Othello: The Remix’, written, directed and music by GQ and JQ (who also make up half of the performing ensemble with Jackson Doran, Postell Pringle and DJ Clayton Stamper). After missing their ‘Funk It Up About Nothin’’, much to my regret, I was not going to miss this show and I’m so glad I didn’t.

I was concerned in the first five minutes as the pace and rhythm of the rap seemed to fly by me like sprinter on steroids but then I sat into the groove of the words, music and action and nothing interrupted my engagement of the story of the moor from then on.

I had niggling doubts about Desdemona being implied and not directly represented but with the skilful work of the actors, with the overlay of vocals from Sophie Grimm as manipulated by DJ Clayton Stamper, clever lighting effects by Jesse Klug and a symbol here and there, I couldn’t have imagined it working as well any other way. Consider my disbelief suspended. A collection of terrific wigs, hats, quick costumes items, a nuanced change in physicality and a modulated voice and suddenly the whole world of Othello’s characters are present on stage using just the four exceptional actors and the DJ.

This rendition is transformative in every way. It’s contemporary, current and cheeky and it blends irascible with adorable. The tennis obsessed CEO Loco Vito, groupie Bianca, lighting designer fantasy-buff/nerd Rodrigo contrast Iago’s destructive anger and Othello’s later jealousy. ‘Othello: The Remix’ understands Shakespeare and its own world very well and there is a gentleness in its treatment of all its characters’ flaws.

The issue of colour seems secondary in this production but it doesn’t lose any power in its storytelling. It was a privilege to see it and my party of six, aged from 17-50, thoroughly enjoyed the show. It’s got such a limited run (it ends over the long weekend) so don’t delay. It’s on at the Seymour Centre as part of the Sydney Festival and you really are going to kick yourself if you miss it.  

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