WALK into any Shakespeare production, and it takes your ears five to ten minutes to adjust to the language. The same applies here.
Everything the members of Chicago Shakespeare Theater say may be in modern-day English, but the words aren’t spoken, they’re rapped.
Within minutes of the show starting, however, it’s as if rap were the natural language we all use. Even with a constant beat behind them, no words are lost – which is just as well, because you wouldn’t want to miss a single one of these oh-so-clever rhyming couplets.
Brought to us by the same people behind Bomb-itty of Errors and Funk it Up About Nothin’, Othello – The Remix takes the basic structure of Shakespeare’s play, then fills it with a whole new mixture.
Othello is now a rising hip hop star, Iago and Cassio his fellow rappers, Roderigo the nerdy technician and Desdemona the singing star who gives Othello’s records their unique flavour. Out on the road for his first tour, Othello favours Cassio over Iago as his opening act. Bitterness ensues, and Iago vows to bring Othello down by convincing him that Desdemona and Cassio are doing the nasty behind his back.
Computer games geek Roderigo is the hapless foil in Iago’s plan, so desperate for his first taste of sex, he’ll sacrifice anything to get it. There’s not a single weak link in this production.
The script is hilarious, intelligent and scrupulously clear. At no point are we lost or unengaged, despite the twists and turns of the plot, and copious character changes that take place.
Dressed in simple garage overalls, four male actor/rappers take on all the roles, including Iago’s wife, Emilia and Cassio’s girlfriend, Bianca (Desdemona only ever appears as a singing voice). Each change signified with the simplest of costumes or wigs, plus the appropriate voice.
The speed of their rapping is remarkable, with no words stumbled over, mumbled or treated with anything less than the respect it deserves.
Packed with dozens of cultural references from a variety of eras, including Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, Björn Borg and Footloose, if you don’t get all the jokes, everybody is guaranteed to get at least some.
Those familiar with Shakespeare’s original will appreciate this show on every level, those new to it will just enjoy a great story, well told.
• Until 27 August. Today 1:55pm.