Othello The Remix – Bruce Mason Centre Auckland Arts Festival

It’s not uncommon to hear complaint about Shakespeare as difficult to understand. Almost equally common, one hears Shakespeare enthusiasts and theatregoers complain about the butchering of Shakespeare in the wrong hands. It’s a clumsy touch that can mar the intelligence and brilliance of Shakespeare . His rich characters and storylines deserve to be honoured, in whatever form they are presented.

The performance of “Othello The Remix” by the Q Brothers Company (in conjunction with the Chicago Shakespeare Company) managed to find the perfect balance between appropriating a classic Shakespearean tragedy and respecting its legacy.

In bringing Othello into the modern urban environment, they successfully provided the audience with endlessly entertaining material, but importantly, also allowed the tragedy of the play to have its authentic moment.

In the Q Brothers’ Shakespearean world, Othello becomes a lead rap artist for his label, owned by cholo CEO Loco Vito (Ludovico), a small time Mexican gangster obsessed with tennis. Meantime, the ever hard-done-by Iago complains in his scheming monologues that Othello makes cookie-cutter music for “white chicks”, while he makes “hype shit.” This desire for the spotlight drives his jealous manipulations, catching the whole rap label in the crossfire.

Cassio, becomes our sacrificial lamb- the new artist, rising through the charts with his signature “Cassio Glide”. But he is destined to be knocked down at his launch party when Rodrigo’s “snake venom in sauvignon blanc” causes him to act “whack” ( or ” crazy ” ) . Iago secures his place as the puppet- master . Driven by the inferiority complex of an insecure entertainer, he successfully steers the company of rappers to its inevitable doom.

While the parameters of the Othello narrative remained true ,  its revival in the modern rap scene allowed the writers and performers a creative space to incorporate comedic elements, which lent the production its huge entertainment value.

Four male performers rapped the whole production, a testament to the skill and dedication of the writers who managed to succinctly present a complex Shakespearean plot, not only in modern language, but also in modern rhyme and rhythm.

While an audience member addressed (in the post-show discussion) the lack of female performers on stage, the dynamics and energy of an all -male cast, coupled with the comedic addition of drag (for female characters) made for a smart production choice. The tragic Desdemona was portrayed as an intangible presence, not ever physically represented. Yet her absence added to the character’s image as perfection incarnate, and heightened the dramatic impact of her death.

One particularly funny number was “It’s A Man’s World”, sung (in drag) by Amelia, the disenchanted wife of Iago, who was sick of being disregarded and diminished in her loveless marriage. With all four actors in drag and playing the roles of women suddenly empowered, it proved a hit with the audience. It added to the rich layers of humour and to the performance as a whole.

I applaud the Q brothers in their appropriation of such a well-known tragedy, and their courage in transforming it with comedy. The reaction from the audience underlined the success of this production There were standing ovations and even the American Ambassador to New Zealand piped up at the end to declare his pride in the performers, his fellow countrymen.

A masterful, intelligent and hilarious show that kept me giggling on my drive home.

– Margie Cooney