Who doesn’t love a good remix? So often the staple of musical geniuses, who take the heart and soul of one track and reinvent it with a layer of beats and other tracks that often form a mashup of the original. OthelloMacbeth is possibly the closest thing I’ve seen to a theatre piece that comes to the very definition of a remix, with Jude Christian the DJ behind the decks taking two classic Shakespearean tragedies and mixing together a captivating version for all and sundry to enjoy.
Currently playing at HOME Manchester, OthelloMacbeth is just the latest in a season of Shakespeare classics dominating the Manchester scene this Autumn. The National Theatre will have their own version of Macbeth at The Lowry, whilst The Royal Exchange‘s Queen Margaret draws on no less than four of Shakespeare’s historical plays and then there is Antic Disposition’s Henry V in the grand surroundings of Manchester Cathedral.
Jude Christian has presented a fusion of the great playwright’s two tragedies, Othello and Macbeth, setting them one after the other and fusing the main strands together. Both plays deal with tragic central characters with plots in both tragedies that revolve around jealousy, power and revenge. Moreover, Christian wanted to focus on the female parts of the plays, bringing them to the fore in both productions.
Christain’s productions at times doesn’t disappoint. The set design for Othello is minimalistic to say the least. A steel curtain is all that is needed for the principal actors to perform the Bard’s famous words in the first half. It’s used effectively for the changeover, as the steel curtain raises to see the zen like set for Macbeth. The use of sound and light is quite effective in the transition of scenes, as Christian uses all his prowess to give you a version of both plays that feels like you’ve not missed out. After all to put on two of Shakespeare’s productions and whittle them to a greatest hits scene by scene is no mean achievement.
And at times the company of actors rise to the challenge of this interesting remix version of Shakespeare. Kirsten Foster and Melissa Johns excel in their roles as tragic heroines Desdemona and Emilia, whilst Samuel Collings is entrancing as Iago and Sandy Grierson gives a mesmeric performance, first as Cassio and then lastly as the maniacal Macbeth.
Whilst Christian should be commended for giving us a different take on Shakespeare’s classic, it just simply failed to live up to the sum of its parts. Indeed, by gutting both plays, we end up on a whistle stop tour of both Othello and Macbeth, moving at a pacy canter and not allowing the audience the time to wallow in the machinations of the tragedy in both plays. Moreover, I felt that given that Christian wanted to allow the female character to take centre stage, and he duly did this in Othello, to then see such a wonderful character as Lady Macbeth, played deliciously by Caroline Faber, relegated for much of the latter stages, slumped in a chair, was a wasted opportunity.
Shakespeare is one of those marmite things in life, you either love it or don’t. Those that have no inclination to watch the bard or theatre for that matter are often discouraged in watching the plays. Christian’s play will no doubt try to break this mould, with the setting being HOME, it will no doubt attract a younger more diverse crowd. Nonetheless, this is the kind of production that Shakespeare fans will love because of their love of Shakespeare. For the rest, we sit and wonder what the fuss is really all about!
Verdict: A reinvention of Shakespeare’s tragedies with a modern twist. Othello and Macbeth are fused together to tell us a tale of jealousy, a lust of power and revenge!