Othello: The Remix
Chicago Shakespeare Theater
- Friday, July 6, 2012, 20:00h
- Saturday, July 7, 2012, 20:00h
Production: Chicago Shakespeare Theater in cooperation with Richard Jordan
Creative Direction: Barbara Gaines
Executive Director: Chris Henderson
Price category: A
The Q-Brothers have made it to the top of the Hip-Hop Scene with their new interpretations of Shakespeare's works. After their award-winning tour with “Bombity of Error“ and “Funk it Up About Nothin“ comes “Othello: the Remix“, a fresh and urban version with new lyrics on a hip-hop beat. The production is also invited to the Olympic Festival in London. The production is the beginning of a new collaboration with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, one of the most important Shakespeare stages in the USA.
Introduction 45 minutes before the performance
German premiere in english
Bard in the hood ...
Othello: The Remix by the Q Brothers was performed as part of the World Shakespeare festival.
Opening with the DJ blaring out the Sugarhill Gang's Rapper's Delight, this is Shakespeare's tragedy, though not as you may remember it. The latest instalment from the Globe to Globe season is billed as "Othello – performed in hip-hop".
This version, updated by the Q Brothers, best known for their 2003 hip-hop adaptation of The Comedy of Errors, is acted and narrated by a cast of four men in jumpsuits (plus that DJ up in the balcony). The lack of scenery or props make voices, and a fair bit of b-boy-like choreography, the focus – and we swap iambic pentameter for a 4/4 hip-hop tempo.
The story is stripped back to 90 minutes, though many of the play's themes of power and betrayal remain. MC Othello is a talented rapper and leader of a crew whose decision to have Cassio as second in rank is met with bitterness from fellow crew-member Iago. Desdemona's handkerchief is switched for a medallion, while Roderigo sells his limited-edition Masters of the Universe action figures to pay Iago for a present for her.
The play is bursting with contemporary references, from Adidas sponsorship deals to Footloose – even, touchingly, the Beastie Boys, whose co-founder Adam Yauch died on Friday. But Othello is still "the Moor" and his rise to prominence as a music mogul draws a parallel with his rise as a soldier. The show packs in as much bawdiness as you might expect, though the "beast with two backs" is swapped for the rather more explicit "boning" and "shagging".
Things teeter on the edge of cheesiness throughout (we could have done without references to "Willy Shakes" in the intro), but they're saved thanks to the wordplay – well-paced, sophisticated and, at times, very funny. The play's brutality felt largely missing, and it would have been fascinating for the Q Brothers to explore Othello's descent into jealousy more fully. The fury-fuelled rage of artists like Eminem or DMX give an insight into how chilling hip-hop can be.
But, just as when British rapper Akala's Hip-Hop Shakespeare company raps lines of original Bard prose to a beat, here it's clear that Shakespeare himself is a master of rhythm and rhyme. Despite the apparent difference of these art forms – one hatched on the streets of 70s America, the other written in Elizabethan and Jacobean London – both reflect cultures preoccupied with power, machismo and status. Though they're billed as speaking different languages, they aren't so different after all.