The achievement of brothers GQ and JQ, Rick Boynton, and their team in the production of Othello: The Remix is nothing short of extraordinary. With a script written by the brothers and composed entirely of rhyming couplets, the cast bring out their own particular interpretations of the play in this unique ‘ad-RAP-tation’ of the classic tragedy.
The new script – which is performed entirely in rap and to music provided by DJ Clayton Stamper – is not simply a modernisation of the Shakespearean language of the original but a radical reworking of the play. The new setting is America and Othello is a rapper on tour with his team. Cassio and Iago are fellow rappers on tour but Cassio is favoured over Iago which, in this production, provides the motive for his schemes. The transformation of Roderigo into a nerdy techie on tour with the team and Lodovico into Loco Vito, the label producer of First Folio Records with a tennis obsession, provides a great deal of witty comedy. Emilia and Bianca, wonderfully brought to life by Jackson Doran and JQ respectively, take on the roles of the down-trodden women following the men on tour which culminates in the absolutely hilarious rendition of ‘It’s a Man’s World’ by Emilia. Combined with the complete elimination of Desdemona’s presence from the stage – she becomes a disembodied, singing voice who does not take part in any dialogue – the presentation of women in this play seems to point to a real injustice underneath the rich vein of comedy: that of the double-standard in the perception of promiscuity in men and women.
All the characters are ably played by the four main actors on stage on the addition of various simple props to their identical overalls. The rappers Othello, Cassio and Iago are created with the donning of their own particular baseball-cap – worn backwards, of course – whilst Loco Vito wears sunglasses and a bandana and Roderigo has a striped beanie hat with geeky glasses. The women simply wear wigs, Bianca has a bright pink one with hoop earrings attached, and sometimes dresses hung around their necks. Even the possibly difficult moment where JQ, playing Loco Vito, sees the corpse of Roderigo – one of the characters that he plays – is cleverly arranged with Roderigo’s beanie and glasses left on the floor. The ingenuity of these costumes enables the play to maintain the incredible speed and energy of the script as the actors move effortlessly from chorus into character with absolute clarity for the audience.
At the core of this novel production is the music, provided by the on-stage DJ, Clayton Stamper, who amazingly DJ’s throughout whilst taking part in chorus songs and dances. The original beats give a powerful and compelling background to the lines and change according to the mood of the scene, stopping altogether for some of Othello’s final lines and other crucial moments leaving breathless silence in the theatre.
Despite all the originality of this production, it remains fairly true to the original messages and characterisations of the play with jealousy convincingly being extended to Iago’s motive in scheming as Othello’s rich but “he keeps me poor”. In fact, the only major change is the almost complete removal of the race issue as, although the actor who plays Othello is black, the only racism that features is that of Brabantio who only features marginally. Additionally, whilst the text is completely rewritten, there are some phrases from the original which have been preserved – like the “seeds of doubt” which clearly displays the familiarity of the writing team original text and explains the learned nature of this interpretation.
One of the production’s slogans is “good storytellers borrow, great ones steal” and this is certainly the case with this play as these storytellers are brilliant. Equally captivating for audiences with some or no familiarity with the text, the accessibility and laugh-out-loud comedy does not by any means detract from the seriousness of the interpretation. A must for school-children studying the play and adults alike.