OTHELLO: The Remix (North)
13/03/2015 - 16/03/2015
In a nutshell:
Turns up the volume of Shakespeare’s sounds for a new generation to tune into.
A killer show – Chicago Tribune
Like thousands of fans from Chicago, London’s Shakespeare Globe Theatre, Edinburgh and Sydney Festivals, you’ll be putting your hands up in the air for this hip-hop adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy of betrayal, jealousy and self-doubt.
Othello: The Remix is a fresh, urban and utterly genius take on Othello, coming direct to you from America’s leading re-interpreters of Shakespeare, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the sensational Q Brothers. MC Othello gets out of the ghetto and goes straight to the top. He wins the respect of the music industry, the adulation of fans and the heart of the beautiful singer Desdemona. However, hip-hop purist Iago has something more sinister planned for Othello.
Whether you’re looking for a night of innovative beats or a new way to think about Shakespeare, Othello: The Remix delivers an intense, high-energy version of Othello like no other, proving that Shakespeare was the original master of rhythm and rhyme.
Recommended for ages 10+
“Absolutely brilliant… just as Shakespeare helped shape English, rap has dramatically refashioned it” – Chicago Sun-Times
Bruce Mason Centre
FRI 13 & SAT 14, 7:00pm
PRICE: $20 – $65
1hr 20mins, no interval
O TO THE H E DOUBLE-L O!
Review by Nik Smythe 14th Mar 2015
Heading in to my first ever Chicagohip-hop Shakespeare performance experience, I feel a sense of great possibility in merging the two artforms without really knowing at all what to actually expect. Being originally commissioned by the Globe Theatre itself and having made it this far around the world, it’s reasonable to assume there’s something worthwhile to it.
The simple travelling set comprises a few spray-painted chests, a couple of ladders and a two level scaffold, atop which mighty one-man beats and melody mashing machine DJ Clayton Stamper supplies the entire rich textual, thematically layered sound bed for the ensuing intense dramatic rhyme-fest.
Once the show blasts off, it does take me a good ten or twenty minutes to fully relax and accept this unique form of presentation, at first struggling to decipher much of the relentless rapid-fire rhythmic rhymes. I’m unsure whether it’s the performers and sound operator finding their levels in the new space, or the acclimatisation of my own ears that presently fix the problem; most likely a combination.
In matching denim boiler suits, the four performers exposit the action as a rapping chorus, donning distinctive mannerisms and accessories for their various characters. The story transposes Shakespeare’s Venetian tragedy to modern America, during the tumultuous events of the hip-hop industry around the turn of the millennium when elements of the musical form began to be embraced and exploited en masse by the commercial mainstream.
Postell Pringle is ‘Poet of the Century’ MC Othello (black cap), a star risen from the ghetto to the headline of a national tour with his old school crew Cassio (Jackson Doran, red cap) and Iago (co-creator, co-director and Q Brothers co-founder GQ, green cap). Doran also plays Iago’s wife Emilia, meanwhile other co-founder, creator and director GQ’s takes on the pivotal roles of lovesick loser tech-head nerd Rodrigo, gruff touring company CEO Loco Vito and sassy latina Bianca, Cassio’s main groupie.
The most conspicuously absent element is any actual female cast member, and more specifically the lack of an on-stage Desdemona, represented instead by the recorded sweet vocal stylings of Sophie Grimm as dropped in to the heady layered mix by the tireless DJ. A complex explanation of how they reached this decision was given during a post-performance Q&A session, but regardless of why, it’s ultimately impressive how ‘real’ a character Desdemona becomes in spite of her physical non-presence; arguably more well-rounded than in Shakespeare’s original text.
I’m actually more surprised to note there is extremely little in the way of authentic Shakespearean verse in the script, evidently finding the genuine vernacular easier to accept within the setting. No matter, the core remains in the exploration of the best and worst aspects of humanity: loyalty, betrayal, true love and pure spite.
As catchy and accessible as the combined beats and vocals are, it continues to challenge on a dramatic level. For instance, the aftermath of the extraordinarily powerful climactic tragic murder scene is liberally seasoned with broadly comedic lyrics and actions which I have a little trouble reconciling.
Another notable non-presence is in the BMC’s three-quarters full audience, where I can’t spot any recognisable old or new faces from our own industrious local hip-hop scene. I can only assume they’ll be representing either tonight (Saturday), or perhaps at next Wednesday’s performance at the Vodafone Arts Centre?
The overall production is expertly rendered, from Scott Davis’s functionally excellent set and costume design to Jesse Klug’s highly complimentary dynamic lighting. And of course the outstanding all-pervasive sound design of James Savage; it’s not clear how much input DJ Clayton has had in the development of the different characters’ thematic sound beds et al.
Overall the four players excel throughout the 80 minute show, not just with the glib rhymes and the effective character distinctions, but also with remarkable self-choreographed dance moves and physical motifs that cut through the production’s somewhat abstract façade and successfully reach us emotionally. Iago’s defining showpiece ‘Puppetmaster’ is a notably effective example of this.
As is the way with hip-hop culture as I understand it, much of what you get from Othello: The Remix depends on what you bring to it. While not personally of the world from which the artform originated, I have enjoyed many commercial and underground examples of the music since it emerged in the eighties. Beats-wise, if it moves me to as often it will do, I’ll dance to it. Lyrically I tend to prefer the positive intent of Michael Franti or the Jurassic 5 to the indulgent misogynistic hedonism of Dr Dre, Fifty Cent et al.
Then there’s the old Bard. As a young drama student I eschewed Shakespeare, thinking it pretentious and over-represented at the expense of relevant local work. Since then, over time his famous genius becomes increasingly apparent to me, perhaps taking longer than most to appreciate not only the timelessness of the stories he told, but also his mastery in observing and conveying the passion and pain of the human condition.
I’m conscious of writing about myself more directly here than I normally care to in a review of artists’ work. Again, it seems a natural way to express the encounter, within the ethos and linguistic power of hip-hop where listening to someone tell their truth, even these contrived fictional characters, makes me think about my own.
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