Review: Othello: Remixed at Omnibus Theatre

Updated and relocated to a London boxing club in 2019, Intermission Theatre Company’s reimagined Othello is an accessible and creative take on a Shakespearean classic. Othello (Kwame Reed) is the club’s star boxer, and when he chooses Michael Cassio (Micah Loubon) as his cornerman for the upcoming championship fight, a bitter Iago (Baba Oyejide) hatches a plan to bring him down. Taking emotional and financial advantage of Rico (Iain Gordon), who fancies Othello’s girlfriend Desdemona (Hoda Bentaher), Iago convinces Othello that she’s cheated on him with Cassio, and in doing so unleashes a violent chain of events that will ultimately end in tragedy.

Photo credit: Richard Jinman

Using the plot and key themes of Shakespeare’s original as a starting point, director Darren Raymond breathes new life into this story of jealousy, insecurity and deception. The dialogue interweaves Shakespearean verse with street slang, and also skilfully incorporates mobile phone use and a contemporary soundtrack, all of which makes the plot easier to follow and more relatable to a modern London audience (Othello and Desdemona being spotted together in Nando’s is a particularly nice touch). The action moves much faster than in the original, too, shaving a good hour off the traditional running time to come in at just two hours including interval, without losing any of the essential plot details.

Also interesting is the addition of a new character, the Referee, who acts as a physical embodiment of the jealousy that provokes both Iago and Othello into their actions. Played with sinuous malice by Danielle Adegoke, the Referee takes away a little of the responsibility from each man – while both are undeniably guilty, the audience is invited to question what led them to commit these crimes, instead of condemning them both out of hand as bad people. The play’s conclusion is also less bloody than the original, the violence less ruthless, and there’s an unexpected twist at the end that has the potential to write a very different story. (Sequel, anyone?)

The cast is made up of graduates from the Intermission Youth Theatre, which was set up to give opportunities to vulnerable young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. By setting the action in a boxing club which was established with the same goal in mind, Raymond paves the way for performances that feel grounded in reality. This is particularly true for Kwame Reed as Othello; throughout Act 1 he comes across as a decent guy who’s trying to leave behind a troubled past by channelling his aggression into something productive, whereas in Act 2 we see how easily and terrifyingly that pent-up violence can be misdirected. Baba Oyejide is also strong as Iago, confidently manipulating everyone around him – including the audience, who laugh along on more than one occasion – with a subtle mix of humour, veiled threat, and an occasional nod to the by now well-known concept of “fake news”.

Photo credit: Richard Jinman

It’s testament to the quality of the production that even if you know how the story ends, the final scene – in which the full impact of Iago’s scheming is realised by everyone – is still incredibly powerful and more than a little tense. For those who don’t know the story, meanwhile, or for those who’ve never had the opportunity or inclination to see Shakespeare done the “traditional way”, Othello: Remixed is an ideal introduction. In touching on topical issues like knife and gun crime, drugs, discrimination, misogyny and the disaffection of young people in the UK today, the production demonstrates how Shakespeare’s work speaks for, and should therefore be available to, everyone. It’s fresh, fun and action-packed with an explosive finale, and I can’t imagine Shakespeare would want it any other way.

Review: Country Music at Omnibus Theatre

This Dartford resident felt very much at home last night watching Simon Stephens’ Country Music, in a new production directed by Scott Le Crass. Set against the symbolic backdrop of the QEII bridge connecting Essex and Kent, the play follows central character Jamie across two decades and four significant encounters, exploring along the way the lasting impact of one bad decision on his life and relationships.

Country Music at Omnibus Theatre
Photo credit: Bonnie Britain

We first meet Jamie (Cary Crankson) in 1983 as a troubled eighteen-year-old, on the run after committing a vicious assault back home in Gravesend. With him is his almost-girlfriend Lynsey (Rebecca Stone), who’s torn between excitement and anxiety over what lies ahead. Ten years later, Jamie’s doing time for an even more serious crime, and receives a tense visit from his younger brother Matty (Dario Coates). And another decade after that, he’s travelled up north to visit his teenage daughter Emma (Frances Knight) – but it’s not quite the joyous reunion he’d hoped for.

The play’s biggest weakness lies in its failure to make the exact timeline and details of Jamie’s misdemeanours completely clear, but what is very apparent is that the split-second choice he made just prior to his escape across the river with Lynsey has gone on to direct the disappointing course of the rest of his life. A short but powerful final scene brings us back to the start of the story, offering a glimpse of what could have been that also feels like a long overdue opportunity for redemption.

Given the subject matter, it’s to be expected that the play makes for a fairly intense 80 minutes, but director Scott Le Crass and a really excellent cast succeed in wringing every last drop of tension and significance out of both Stephens’ words and, just as importantly, the silences between them. Such is the quality of all four actors’ performances that these – often quite lengthy – pauses in the dialogue are enthralling to watch; I don’t think I’ve ever been so fascinated by two people sitting and eating crisps in complete silence. Cary Crankson in particular gives an outstanding performance as Jamie, his every gesture and expression conveying what the character’s immaturity and intellectual limitations often prevent him being able to put into words.

Though little of the action actually takes place there, Jamie’s home town of Gravesend is crucial to the story; even two decades later, he still speaks of it with a kind of pride, despite the fact it’s the place where his life took such a dramatically wrong turn. He seems particularly fascinated by the QEII bridge, and mentions it often – though when his story begins, it’s little more than an idea (it was built during the 1980s, and didn’t open until 1991). Liam Shea’s striking set also takes inspiration from the bridge’s towering and architecturally impressive structure, with ropes that converge on a simple raised platform in the centre where the action unfolds.

Country Music at Omnibus Theatre
Photo credit: Bonnie Britain

The tragedy of Country Music is that while it’s all too easy for a life to go off course, getting it back on track can be an impossible struggle. The Jamie who meets his seventeen-year-old daughter is an entirely different man to the volatile teenager who went on the run all those years before – yet he’s still forced to live with the consequences of that boy’s mistakes, however desperately he wishes he could undo them. The plot may at times be slightly muddled, but the sense of waste and irretrievable loss at its heart comes through powerfully in this excellent revival.

Review: Tony’s Last Tape at Omnibus Theatre

Tony Benn is well known for being one of Britain’s most divisive politicians – and yet when he died in 2014, tributes poured in from colleagues across the political spectrum, who spoke of their great respect for his enduring commitment to the values and causes in which he believed. In his tribute, then Labour leader Ed Miliband said, “He believed in movements and mobilised people behind him for the causes he cared about, often unfashionable ones. In a world of politics that is often too small, he thought big about our country and our world.”

Photo credit: Robert Day

That commitment comes across powerfully in Andy Barrett’s play Tony’s Last Tape, in which a frail 87-year-old Benn (or rather “a character called Tony Benn, based on the real life Tony Benn”) decides it’s time to finally quit politics… well, maybe. For 50 years he’s recorded the events of his life in his diaries, and on this rainy morning he’s recording his final tape. What emerges from the meandering monologue that follows is a picture of a principled and still fiercely dedicated politician, but also a devoted family man with a mischievous sense of humour… and an enduring love of bananas.

Most importantly – and refreshingly, particularly at the moment – Tony Benn comes across as a human being fighting for other human beings. And whether we agree with or even understand everything he says (I suspect you’d need to know quite a bit about British political history to pick up every reference and name-drop in the play), it’s impossible not to like and respect him for his passion and determination. It’s also very obvious that a man like that, despite his best intentions, won’t be able to stop; he can’t even resist risking life and limb to change a lightbulb, even though common sense dictates he should definitely not be climbing on the desk in his condition.

Photo credit: Robert Day

Philip Bretherton gives a strong solo performance, recognisably portraying the real Tony Benn in voice, appearance and mannerisms. He’s equally convincing, however, in his depiction of an elderly man looking back over an eventful life and reflecting thoughtfully on the decisions – both right and wrong – that he’s taken, and emotionally on the loved ones he’s lost along the way. Director Giles Croft manages the pace and energy of the production well; rather than just sit at his desk and talk, Benn potters around his cluttered study and rummages in desk drawers and bookcases, frequently stumbling on long-forgotten objects that spark new memories and anecdotes. As a result, there’s little in the way of linear narrative – instead the play is a 75-minute stream of consciousness that hops from one topic to another.

In light of this, Tony’s Last Tape shouldn’t be seen as anything approaching a Tony Benn biopic (with over 50 years of material to work from, Barrett could hardly be expected to cover everything anyway), and it’s probably a good idea to read at least a brief summary of Benn’s career before going in to give the play some context. What the play is, however, is a sympathetic and respectful portrayal of a man who went into politics for the right reasons, and who never wavered from his convictions. Particularly in the current political climate, that feels like something which deserves to be celebrated.

Review: The Orchestra at Omnibus Theatre

The show must go on… but at what cost? In Jean Anouilh’s The Orchestra, set just after World War II, petty in-fighting and lingering suspicions between the members of an orchestra in a small French spa town contrast sharply with their jaunty repertoire. Under the watchful eye of the manager, they must play on despite mounting tensions, uncomfortable revelations, and an unexpected climax to the evening’s entertainment.

Photo credit: Jacob Malinski

Set in real time, the 50-minute play alternates between musical interludes and the snatches of conversation in between, and sometimes during, the performances. From these we learn that leader Mme. Hortense (Amanda Osborne) and cellist Suzanne (Stefania Licari) are love rivals, fighting inexplicably over the orchestra’s meek pianist – and sole male – M. Leon (Pedro Casarin); violinists Patricia (Luna Dai) and Pamela (Sarah Waddell) clash over their very different views on sex and relationships; and flautist Leona (Jessica Hulme) is forced to sit and gasp appreciatively as Ermeline (Charlotte Laporte) talks at length about her marital problems. And all the while, the manager (Toph Enany) prowls in and out of the theatre – having also made his presence felt in the bar before the show – as a constant reminder of the pressure to paste on a smile and perform.

There’s an undercurrent of dark humour in Anouilh’s text, translated by Jeremy Sams, though it’s more of the satirical than the laugh out loud variety. Bickering and breakdowns are delivered with conviction by the internationally diverse cast, with Amanda Osborne particularly enjoyable as she tries to keep the group upbeat and focused on the task at hand. While the other characters’ conversations establish a backdrop of ongoing frustration with their own lives, the love triangle that connects Mme. Hortense with Stefania Licari’s melodramatic Suzanne and Pedro Casarin’s perpetually flustered M. Leon is more immediate and explosive, providing some drama and preventing the play from becoming too static.

Photo credit: Jacob Malinski

Unfortunately the musical scenes in Kristine Landon-Smith’s production – with the exception of the final one – don’t hold our attention in the same way, and this frequent loss of engagement means the play never quite takes off. The cast do a convincing job of miming along with the recorded soundtrack, but besides a few sideways glances and the odd bit of dialogue, there’s often not that much going on. Perhaps this is deliberate, to emphasise the divide between the players’ professional and personal demeanours; that certainly comes across very effectively. But it does mean that after a while – each piece is a good couple of minutes – the audience is left with not much to look at, the cheerful tunes we’re listening to (composed by Felix Cross) already having been dismissed by members of the orchestra themselves as little more than background music for a polite but indifferent audience.

Most of us have, at some point, had to put aside workplace squabbles and present a united front in the name of professionalism. Anouilh’s play presents a heightened version of that scenario, taking it to absurd lengths and setting it in a very particular time and place, but it remains enjoyably relatable – and this production, while not perfect, is a welcome revival.

The Orchestra is at the Omnibus Theatre until 17th February.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Review: Blood Wedding at Omnibus Theatre

Federico García Lorca’s rural tragedy Blood Wedding gets a distinctly urban makeover in George Richmond-Scott’s powerful new adaptation. The production moves the action to modern day London, which allows it to touch on topical issues like Brexit and knife crime – but by keeping the characters Spanish, it doesn’t stray too far from the play’s roots, and the second act in particular (the third in Lorca’s text) retains very effectively the other-worldly atmosphere of the original.

The story centres around three Spanish families. As the widowed Mother (Maria de Lima) struggles to come to terms with the forthcoming marriage of her only Son (Federico Trujillo), the Bride (Racheal Ofori) wrestles with her passion for old flame Leo (Ash Rizi). He’s now unhappily married to her cousin, the Wife (Miztli Rose Neville), and also happens to be a member of the family that murdered the Mother’s husband. When all the characters are brought together at the wedding celebrations, a tragic and violent chain of events is set in motion from which nobody will escape unscathed.

Federico Trujillo and Racheal Ofori (Bride and Groom) low res. pic credit Nick Arthur Daniel
Photo credit: Nick Arthur Daniel

While the first act draws us into the family drama, the second, much shorter act has a very different style, as the characters become the playthings of forces far more powerful than themselves. Here the Moon, played by Yorgos Karamalegos as a sinuous and sinister figure, stalks the city streets, where he’s joined by Death in the form of a homeless woman (Maria de Lima) and together the two conspire to ensure the final confrontation takes place. The stark contrast in tone, which encompasses everything from language to physical style to lighting and sound, makes these final brutal scenes feel almost dream-like in comparison to the very naturalistic opening act.

George Richmond-Scott has, for the most part, remained true to Lorca’s plot – albeit with a few characters cut – but updated it for the 21st century. So a horse becomes a motorbike, and a vineyard turns into a restaurant; there are frequent references to the impact of Brexit and the possibility of returning home to Spain. Though this inevitably means a little of the poetry is lost, there are still moments where Lorca’s familiar words shine through, such as in the Mother’s obsessive horror of knives (which, ironically, could have been written yesterday) and in the Bride’s final passionate plea for, if not forgiveness, then at least understanding. His presence is also strongly felt in Camilla Mathias’ haunting live music, which, as with the rest of the play, offers an original take on cante jondo, the traditional folk music that played such an important part in Lorca’s life and work.

Camilla Mathias and Maria de Lima (Friend and Mother) low res PIC CREDIT Nick Arthur Daniel
Photo credit: Nick Arthur Daniel

In a play that places a strong emphasis on the role of women, Maria de Lima stands out with her performance as the Mother. At first easy to dismiss as a bossy, overprotective matriarch – almost, at certain moments, a comic figure – she ultimately becomes the emotional heart of the play, and her final scene is almost unbearable to watch in its tragic intensity. Racheal Ofori and Miztli Rose Neville are similarly impressive as the Bride and the Wife, who are both trapped into unwanted marriages by the pressure of family and society to secure their futures, but who deal with their situation in quite different ways.

The tragic conclusion of Blood Wedding – which was inspired by real events – serves as a powerful reminder of the futility of violence, whether in 1930s Spain (Lorca himself was executed by Nationalist forces at the start of the Spanish Civil War, when he was just 38 years old) or in 21st century London, where knife crime continues to increase at alarming rates. As we watch the surviving characters grieve, we can’t help but be struck by the pointlessness of the rivalry, social ambition and deception that have laid the foundations for so much devastating loss. In this respect, the play adapts very well to its new time period and physical setting – even though that may tell us more about the unchanging nature of humanity than we really want to know.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉