x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Lend me your ears for Othello, the rap version

The Dubai Drama Group is putting a modern spin on classic Shakespeare.

To a teen, the word "Shakespeare" usually conjures up images of a man with a bad comb-over in a silly ruffed collar. Literature students have spent torturous hours despairing over whether they can elicit some sort of hidden meaning from pages of abstruse verse that are meant to be A Comedy of Errors, for heaven's sake. Why on earth, we have cried out, would someone put so much effort into writing in iambic pentameter, and what is iambic pentameter anyway?

Shakespeare fans have strived for years to make the Swan of Avon accessible to today's youth; the chick flick She's the Man features a high school girl who wants to play in the guys' football team, so dresses up as her twin brother, complete with fake sideburns. The plot is based on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. While his plays may seem wordy, they will remain relevant as long as humans experience the timeless emotions of love, jealousy, betrayal and confusion.

Last week, a couple of friends and I decided to drop in for a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare(Abridged) to be performed by the Dubai Drama Group, at Ductac in Mall of the Emirates. Adeela's incentive to visit the place was mainly the red carpet leading up to its entrance, although I think that might be in honour of another adjacent event, the Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre.

Most Shakespearean productions I've seen have actors spouting lots of tedious soliloquies that sound beautifully poetic but make no sense unless you've previously read the script. This seemed much more promising, mostly because the pamphlet had a caricature of the bard's head sitting atop a pair of Converse shoes. Besides, if they were to get through 37 plays in less than two hours, at least each one would be mercifully short.

Toby Masson, Cliff Single and Gordon Torbet played all the parts, the male and female, and were spellbindingly hilarious right from when Juliet tried to kill herself with Romeo's retractable toy dagger, to the glorious end, where they acted Hamlet backwards. (Or attempted to.)

Vani was still wondering out loud why she had agreed to voluntarily watch Shakespeare, until they came to Othello. The cast's doubts over how they would depict a racially sensitive play vanished as they donned gold chains and Adidas caps, and a beatbox crackled to life. The quality of the lyrics notwithstanding, the rap Othello was easily the highlight of the evening: Vani was even forced to concede that there could exist an entity surpassing Eminem in musical virtuosity.

It would probably be best not to touch upon the authenticity of the Scottish accents or overly generous peppering of Och and rolled Rs in Macbeth. Talking to Brent Jenkins, the director, it turned out that the entire crew were volunteers, serving up barrels of laughs purely out of the goodness of their hearts. Except, maybe the favourite cast member Mike, who doesn't have one because, according to an earnest Jenkins, Mike plays the skull in the graveyard.

The writer is a 17-year-old student in Dubai