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Ring of Envy (Susan Elkin reviews)

Intermission Youth Theatre, St Saviour’s Church, Knightsbridge

This is a pacey, engaging version of Othello for now. Darren Raymond’s version, developed from workshops with members of Inter-mission Youth Theatre, sets the play in a gym using a boxing ring as the focus for intimate in-the-round theatre. Othello (Kwame Reed) is a champion boxer. Other characters are part of that community. Even the title is multilayered because here it’s a ring (not a handkerchief) which leads Othello to his fatal final act of jealousy.

The text uses modern colloquial English seamlessly interspersed with Shakespeare’s language and that works beautifully and sometimes wittily. The idea of Brabantio (Tristram Anyiam) becoming incensed because Othello and Desdemona (Esther Odejimi) having been seen together in Nandos is funny but it works.

Also fascinating is that this is a predominantly black cast. If none of the main characters is white (and you manage the text carefully) the racism simply disappears from the play. Instead it becomes a tightly focused, universal tragedy about jealousy. And I loved the ending which, by borrowing a little something (no spoilers) from another Shakespeare play, presents an even more devastating conclusion than the original.

Baba Oyejide is an understated but chillingly effective Iago. There’s no malevolent leering at the audience when he’s lying to other characters. Instead he is flanked by a pair of commentators (Nyomi Wright and Tammi Blake – both good) who voice and echo his thoughts – a device which sits very successfully here. Oyejide makes Iago seem shockingly plausible. It’s fine acting.

Reed’s performance is intelligent and moving as he works the shift from an innocent quasi boyfriend to a girl he really loves all the way to a possessive, violent, crazed, jealous man. He speaks the lines – both sorts – with naturalistic conviction and is a good actor to watch.

Lovely work from Odejimi too as a confident Desdemona (Dezzy) mad about Othello and really puzzled when he turns against her. The strangling scene is one of the most convincing I’ve ever seen.

And they’re ably supported by a strong cast consisting of a mix of current Inter-mission Youth Theatre members and former members, many of whom are now working professionally.

Inter-mission Youth Theatre was founded ten years ago by Bishop Bob Gillion, his wife Janine and Darren Raymond. It operates from St Saviour’s Church, Knightsbridge which is still a functioning place of worship as well as a theatre. Inter-mission Youth Theatre is an arts-based youth mentoring programme, now including outreach activities. It works with 16-25 year olds from across London who are “lacking opportunities, at risk of offending, ex-offenders or aspiring young actors”. Darren Raymond, an inspiring man and role model is artistic director, having discovered Shakespeare in 2004 when as he says: “I was not in a very good place”.

Mark Rylance, about to play Iago at The Globe is Inter-mission Youth Theatre’s patron was supportively in the audience the night I saw Ring of Envy. A former IYT member is cast in the forthcoming Globe production and was also in the audience.

In short this is an admirable initiative which has changed the lives of over a hundred young people in the last decade. It is also the creator of some jolly good theatre. Ring of Envy is a good show by any standards.

 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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